Technology TED Talks

10 animals who’ve ruled the internet

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Peter Gabriel speaks with Diana Reiss, Neil Gershenfeld and Vint Cerf on the possibility of an interspecies internet. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Peter Gabriel speaks with Diana Reiss, Neil Gershenfeld and Vint Cerf on the possibility of an interspecies internet. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

“I make noises for a living, and on a good day it’s music,” says Peter Gabriel in today’s talk. “I work with a lot of musicians from around the world. Often, we don’t have any common language at all. But we sit behind our instruments and suddenly there’s a way to connect and emote.”

This made Gabriel wonder: could he play music with an animal? He began cold-calling scientists who work in the area of animal cognition and, eventually, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh (watch her talk) invited Gabriel to have a jam session with a bonobo named Groom, the full results of which you can watch in the video below.

In today’s talk, Gabriel shares why this bonobo — who had played with percussion instruments before, but never a keyboard — was so amazing to him. “She discovers a note she likes. She finds the octave and then decides a key,” says Gabriel, in a beautiful moment of the talk. “That night, we began to dream. Diana Reiss, Peter Gabriel, Neil Gershenfeld and Vint Cerf: The interspecies internet? An idea in progress Diana Reiss, Peter Gabriel, Neil Gershenfeld and Vint Cerf: The interspecies internet? An idea in progress Perhaps the most amazing tool that man has created is the internet. What would happen if we could somehow find new interfaces — visual, audio — to allow these remarkable sentient beings that we share the planet with access.”

Gabriel is the second speaker in today’s talk, in which a panel of four thinkers pass the baton to posit a bold idea in its nascent stage: could the internet be expanded to include other species? First, cognitive psychologist Diana Reiss shares her work exploring animal intelligence and communicating with dolphins through an underwater keyboard. Then Gabriel spoke on making music with a bonobo. Next, internet of things visionary Neil Gershenfeld demoed a Skype-like network that’s connecting animals across the globe via video conferencing. Finally, one of the fathers of the internet, Vint Cerf, took the stage.

“When Bob [Kahn] and I did this design [for the internet], we thought we were building a system to connect computers together and what we very quickly discovered is that it’s a system for connecting people,” he says. “What you’ve seen tonight tells you that we should not restrict this network to one species. These other intelligent, sentient species should be part of the system too.”

This idea of an interspecies internet is, of course, in its very beginning stages. Stay tuned to the TED Blog, where we will keep you posted on this ambitious project.

As we talk about the possibility of connecting other intelligent animals to the internet, it’s interesting to note that animals are a part of the internet in this strange way. Animals playing music, animals doing unexpected things, livestreams of animals just being animals — this forms a core segment of our entertainment online, animals connecting people all around the world in laughter, even if they aren’t aware of it. So today, it feels right take a look at some of the animals who’ve ruled the internet and posit the question: someday, could they go online for themselves?


  1. What happens when you sheer the hair of a particularly adorable Pomeranian? You get Boo, otherwise known as “The World’s Cutest Dog.” Boo gained an internet following in 2010, when pop singer Ke$ha and reality TV star Khloe Kardashian gave him love on Twitter. Two books, a calendar and a stuffed animal line later, and Boo has amassed more than 7 million friends on Facebook — which is, gulp, twice as many as TED has.
  2. The sour face that has launched a thousand memes, Grumpy Cat has racked up over 11 million YouTube hits, a Forbes interview and a spot on The Today Show since her photo was posted on Reddit in September of 2012. Not bad for a disgruntled face. Grumpy Cat also has a book, A Grumpy Book, and a website, Entertaining as she might be, Grumpy Cat’s slogan is not something to live by: “I had fun once. It was awful.”
  3. Sneezing panda’s video is only 17 seconds long — but it made him an outright star around the world. This video of a mama panda munching on bamboo while her baby unleashes a sneeze so strong it sends him flying in the air, has been viewed nearly 161 million times. Sadly, the mother in the video, Mao Mao, was reportedly killed in the earthquake that shook Wolong, China, in 2008. The sneezing baby, however, survived.
  4. Tillman the skateboarding dog is a droopy-faced bulldog with the soul of Tony Hawk. When a YouTube video of him skating at Venice Beach in California was posted in June of 2008, he quickly became an online celebrity. He set the Guinness World Record for “fastest 100 meter on a skateboard by a dog” and starred in both an Apple ad and a commercial for Armstrong Flooring. His video has now been watched nearly 21 million times.
  5. Best friends come in all shapes and sizes — never has this been more true than with Tara and Bella, the elephant and stray dog who became buds at the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. The two friends eat together, play together and sleep together; Bella even lets Tara stroke her stomach with her giant elephant paw. With a piece on CBS Evening News and countless videos on YouTube — including more recently an obituary video for Bella — this couple speaks to the power of interspecies friendship.
  6. The living embodiment of one of Disney’s “Aristocats”, Nora the Piano Cat discovered she “could make beautiful music, just like the humans.” After a USA Today story and Buzzfeed notoriety, Nora now manages her fame on her very own website. Check-in with her latest “Mews,” judge her model poses in her image gallery and prove that “Practice Makes Purr-fect” in her video gallery.
  7. Warning: this video will make you cry. Christian the Lion was adopted by two Australian men, Ace Bourke and John Randall, in 1969. But eventually, he got too big and had to be returned to the wild. When the pair went to visit Christian many years later, they assumed he wouldn’t remember them. Not the case. Their amazing reunion has circulated on YouTube in multiple videos — one set to Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” one accompanied by Aeromsmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” and another to a soundtrack of Sigur Ros.
  8. Dubbed “The meanest animal in the world” by an AEFF film in 2003, the Honey Badger rose to fame as a YouTube sensation in 2011. The trailer for this film now has over 500,000 hits on YouTube as well as numerous spin-off videos. On twitter, a tweeting honey badger in Johannesburg has nearly 8,000 followers; follow BG at @zootweetslive. Thirsty? You can always swig the Honey Badger performance energy drink.
  9. A psychic octopus — really? Well, during the 2010 Soccer World Cup, soccer fans worldwide held their breath for Paul the Octopus to settle his tentacles over a box in his tank containing their team’s flag. Paul made eight consecutive successful predictions, ultimately picking Spain to beat Netherlands in the final. Watch Paul in the film “The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus and celebrate the fact that, tentacle sham or not, he has made us dream of the possibility of a higher power.
  10. Finally, we’d like to give a shout-out to Keyboard Cat, who though long dead, still makes us laugh. In 1984, Charlie Schmidt put his cat, Fatso, in a turquoise t-shirt, sat him down at a keyboard and manipulated his arms to play a bouncy beat. This video has become one of the longest-lived memes on the internet. Play us off, Keyboard Cat!

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list. Who are your favorite animals on the internet? And do you like the idea of expanding the internet to include other species?

Emmie Le Marchand contributed to this article.