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Friday, April 24, 1998 Published at 17:28 GMT 18:28 UK


Sci/Tech

Net goes bananas

Koko: ready to reveal her innermost thoughts via the Net (Photo: Dr Ronald Cohn)

If you log on to the Internet for a chat on Monday, you may find yourself talking to a gorilla.

In a world first, Koko the gorilla is getting ready to reveal her innermost thoughts via the Net.


Penny Patterson, Director of the Gorilla Foundation: How to talk to Koko (2'12")
While she cannot actually type, the 26-year-old western lowland gorilla is fluent in modified American sign language.

Koko is said to understand some 2,000 words of spoken English. According to the Gorilla Foundation where she been tutored, she has a working vocabulary of 500 signs.

In what is being described as the first inter-species computer chat, Koko will use her skills to answer questions from curious humans through the Internet provider America Online (AOL).

Her tutor, Francine Patterson, will translate questions between AOL users and Koko - who will be logged on at the Foundation research centre near San Francisco where she lives.

Patterson will then translate Koko's responses and relay them to a typist.

While the chat session will be a first, Koko is no stranger to computers. Apple Computer gave her a Macintosh as part of a study in the late 1980s.

The chat is being held as a belated celebration of Earth Day, which was on April 22, and also to highlight the plight of gorillas.

Central African lowland gorillas like Koko are threatened by logging and poaching in their natural habitats. There are now less than 500 mountain gorillas in the wild.

Koko's chat will take place on April 27 at 2300 GMT. Net users can participate in the dialogue through Envirolink.



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