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Mapping Wild Cards

Inspired by: foresight/futures » Development of human-animal communication

version: 3 / updated: 2013-06-29
id: #1981 / version id: #185
mode: VIEW

Originally submitted by: Rafael Popper
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Last changed by: Rafael Popper
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Source of inspiration

Foresight/Futures work (e.g. EFP, Millennium Project, WFS, WFSF, UK Sigma Scan)

The source of the Wild Card is

UK Sigma Scan http://www.sigmascan.org/Live/Issue/ViewIssue.aspx?IssueId=45&SearchMode=1


(max. 9 words)

Development of human-animal communication


(approx. 150 words)
Please describe the Wild Card (approx. 150 words)
Ongoing efforts to analyse, replicate and translate the way other species communicate might, in the future, achieve a breakthrough which would allow us to communicate on a far deeper level with animal species, and vice versa. Intelligent creatures (e.g. primates and dolphins) might arguably be capable of conversation and this could radically alter our perception of animal rights and our relationship with the natural world.


language, human, animal, communication, rights


Closest timeframe for at least 50% likelihood
Please use one of the following options:

Features of life if the wild card manifests

Feature 1: business models and industrial environment
BowLingual-like devices (which translate dog barks into human language) would allow animal 'language' to be converted to human dialects, and vica versa. This would create new markets, business models and industrial relations for both humans and animals.
Feature 3: consumers, markets and lifestyles
Vegetarianism could increase dramatically, as more people gain a new respect for animals.

Type of event

Human planned (e.g. terrorist attack or funded scientific breakthrough)

Type of emergence

please select (if any) describe related trend or situation
An extreme extension of a trend/development/situation
(e.g. Increased global warming leads to a total ban on fossil fuels)
Scientific breakthrough which allows us to communicate with animal species, and vice versa

Historical parallels

Chimp-Human sign language communication. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human-animal_communication Traditional methods of communicating with animals, as demonstrated since time immemorial by pastoralists, nomads, herders, hunter/gatherers and others with a close relationship with other species. Dolphin communications. The conflict could resemble the America civil rights or slavery emancipation movement.

Type of systems affected





please specify:
please select
Level 4: important for the whole world

Early indicators

(including weak signals)

Successful trials of dolphin, dog, primate and other translator devices. How "success" could be quantified in this context would be an interesting question. What would still get "lost in translation"?

Latent phase

Obstacles for early indentification

scientific filters (knowledge/technology access)

Manifestation phase

Type of manifestation

In a probably enclosed way (e.g. geographically, sectorally)

Aftermath phase

Important implications
Emergence of a new system (e.g. new technologies, new paradigms)
Transformation of a system (e.g. new applications, change in stakeholders relations/influence)


The gradual development, or sudden breakthrough, of a translation device could lead humanity to radically reconsider the way that they relate to other animals. The animal rights movement could be strengthened, and possibly become more militant (though there are pre-existing extremist groups).

Key drivers or triggers

Provide up to 2 possible drivers or triggers of HIGH importance. Click on HELP to see examples:
please describe
Driver / Trigger 1
please describe
Driver / Trigger 2
Social Our innate curiousity and interest in animals, especially in the way we attach emotionally and anthropomorphise our pets
Technological/Scientific Medical and scientific developments in biological understanding, including in research into the human brain and language
Political Military desire to remove soldiers from conflict areas

Potential impacts (risks & opportunities)

Timeframe options
Risks Opportunities
(within 1 year after the Wild Card manifests)
There may be a turn against the livestock industry, or at least a bigger impetus towards more sympathetic (e.g. organic) farming methods. A big impact could be felt in veterinary practice, as it is often currently difficult to tell where or how an animal is hurt, so this may be an instance where improved communication could be useful and drive innovation.
short term
(1 to 5 years after the Wild Card manifests)
The fight over animal rights and roles in society could lead to protests, especially where the conflicts of opinions are symptomatic of deeper division.
medium term
(5 to 10 years after the Wild Card manifests)
Such technologies could also have military applications, and animals could be used in situations where physiology gave them an environmental advantage or in dangerous combat situations, for example as spies or bombers.
long term
(more than 10 years after the Wild Card manifests)
There may be an increase in the value and demand for particularly vocal species, which could endanger them or lead to maltreatment.

Potential stakeholders' actions

it occurs
it occurs
Policy actors (at the international, European and national levels) In any case governments would be likely to be placed under pressure to codify and qualify rights with respect to other species in relation to humanity.
Non-for-profit organisations (e.g. NGOs, political parties, social movements, voluntary associations) There could be calls for animal rights to be made equal to humans, or at least more rigorously protected in law.
General public Conflicts could arise between groups over whether certain animals should be kept as pets.

Relevance for Grand Challenges

where? please justify:
particularly relevant Europe world
Behavioural change
Coexistence and conflicts

Relevance for thematic research areas

please justify:
particularly relevant
Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, and Biotechnology
Social Sciences and Humanities