Miami’s Jungle Island is giving a whole new meaning to the term monkey business by participating in a new experiment between computers and apes.
The park is letting six orangutans use an iPad as part of a mental stimulus program. The experiment’s goal is to begin to bridge the intellectual gap between humans and apes. Linda Jacobs, who oversees the program, said apes are quite intelligent, but are hindered by their inability to express their thoughts vocally.
The software, which was originally designed for humans with autism, displays pictures of various objects. A trainer then names one of the objects, and the ape presses the related button.
But when it comes to animals using it, the iPad has limitations. The small touch screen makes it hard for orangutans to press the right buttons and the iPad won’t respond to fingernails. The high price of the iPads also inhibits what they apes can do with them considering iPads are breakable and the orangutans tend to monkey around.
Birute Mary Galdikas, founder of Orangutan Foundation International, said in captivity, orangutans demonstrate remarkable creative-thinking skills, specifically in their ability to escape enclosures.
The park hopes the new form of communication will help more people understand the apes, since in the past the only form of communication has been sign language.