Apes with Apps

At the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, Kanzi, a 31 year old bonobo has been learning to communicate with humans. Kanzi selects “lexigram” symbols on his Motorola Zoom tablet to ask questions, express needs and desires, even create names for things he likes but doesn’t have a word for yet. Like pizza. Kanzi hits the lexigrams for “tomato-cheese-bread” when he wants a slice. He calls kale “slow-lettuce” because it takes longer to chew. I photographed Kanzi and other bonobos at the great ape trust for IEEE Spectrum, an electronics magazine interested in how touch screens, tablet computers and wireless networking facilitate language development in apes. Witnessing Kanzi’s language skills firsthand was an incredible, once in a lifetime experience.

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