Frequently Asked Questions

What is ESP?

Founded in 2017, Earth Species Project is a non-profit dedicated to using artificial intelligence to decode non-human communication.

Who is behind ESP?

Earth Species Project was initially founded by Britt Selvitelle, a member of the founding team at Twitter; and Aza Raskin, who helped found Mozilla Labs and is also the co-founder of the Center for Human Technology. Katie Zacarian joined the organization as a co-founder in 2020 and became CEO in 2022. The team now comprises 10 people which includes an AI research team of five representing deep expertise in diverse fields, from mathematics and neuroscience to deep learning, AI and natural language processing.

Many of the team have backgrounds working in the technology sector and all are deeply committed to ensuring that rapid technological advances benefit people and planet. See more on their backgrounds on our Team Page.

What is your mission?

Earth Species Project is dedicated to using artificial intelligence to decode non-human communication. We believe that an understanding of non-human languages will transform our relationship with the rest of nature. Along the way, we are building technological solutions that are delivering real conservation impact today. We also aim to make a contribution to building the broader fields of ethology, bioacoustics and machine learning by making all our work publicly accessible through the creation of an open access data repository - the Earth Species Project Library.

Who are your science collaborators?

Making progress on decoding animal communication will require the collaboration of many organizations and brilliant minds in this interdisciplinary field of ethology, AI, linguistics, mathematics and neuroscience. One of our core principles is collaboration, and we are proud to be partnering with more than 40 biologists and institutions on this journey, ranging from Dr. Ari Friedlaender at University of California at Santa Cruz to Professor Christian Rutz at the University of St. Andrews, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Cornell University. You can see more detail on our Partners Page and find out how to get involved.

What is your approach to decoding non-human communication?

The motivating intuition for ESP was that modern machine learning can build powerful semantic representations of language which we can use to unlock communication with other species. The field of machine learning is experiencing rapid and exponential change, with the total number of machine learning publications doubling from more than 160,000 in 2010 to more than 330,000 in 2021 (Stanford AI Index Report 2021). As a result, we are testing new approaches to delivering on our mission on a regular basis. 

We are currently engaged in three critical AI research programs which have been developed in close partnership with our partners in biology and machine learning and that lay the foundations for future research. These include: 

  • Creating unified benchmarks and data, acoustic and multimodal, to validate our experiments and accelerate the field, vetted by top biologists and AI researchers 
  • Turning motion into meaning — automatic behavior discovery from large-scale data sourced from animal-borne tags
  • Establishing semantic generation and editing of communication — the ability to explore and create semantically-viable communication in the lab and in the field.

Please see our technical roadmap for more information

When will you see the results of your research?

We are already seeing significant results as our machine learning models help to facilitate the rapid analysis of research data at scale which supports our understanding of how other species behave and communicate. We have recently published the results of our work to resolve the Cocktail Party Problem which is helping researchers to use and analyze more of their acoustic data, and are also creating benchmarks and foundation models that will support the development of the field of machine learning and technology. For examples, please see descriptions of our current research projects and how they are creating impact. 

In terms of reaching the goal of fully decoding the communication of another species, this is very much the beginning of our journey, and it is still too early to tell when this may be possible and/or what that end goal will look like. In the meantime, we are ensuring that our work delivers maximum conservation impact today and helps to build the field.

How is the project funded?

We are a 501c3 nonprofit and our work is made possible through the generous support of a community of donors. To make a contribution please visit Support.