Martin Thompson on Fri, 8 May 1998 18:49:03 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> an equal playing field ?

Gorilla bored quickly by Internet chat with humans

 By REUTERS  San Francisco - Koko the 300-pound gorilla logged on to the
Internet on Monday - and clearly was not impressed.

During what was billed as the world's first "interspecies" on-line chat,
Koko was far more interested in her toy alligator and dreams of dinner than
in answering a barrage of questions from thousands of eager humans.

"I like drinks," Koko said, in one of her more lucid comments during the
45-minute dialogue.

"Apple drink."

Koko's foray into the high-technology world of Internet chatrooms was
sponsored by America Online and Envirolink, which together with the Gorilla
Foundation near San Francisco set up the event to publicize the plight of
the world's great apes.

Lowland gorillas like Koko are threatened by logging and poaching in their
native habitats in Central Africa, while their cousins, the mountain
gorillas, number now fewer than 500 in the wild.

Koko, who is 26, was seen as the obvious on-line ambassador for her species.
Raised and trained near San Francisco, she has studied modified American
Sign Language for 25 years and is now said to understand some 2,000 words of
spoken English.

Unfortunately, few of these were put into play during Monday's discussion.

"Lips," Koko said, using her codeword for woman.

"Koko loves lips."

Dr. Francine Patterson, Koko's tutor and translator, said Koko's relative IQ
is about 86 and she reacts to many situations much like a human child. She
dismissed one question about a fellow gorilla with the pithy "toilet" -
which Patterson said is her word for "bad."

Koko's laconic approach to the Internet was frustrating for the human
chatters, who peppered her with questions ranging from her opinions on
Darwinian Theory to her views on the new movie version of King Kong.

She did manage one shocker - demanding "food and smokes" for her birthday -
but Patterson said Koko is tobacco-free and was really asking for her former
pet, a kitten named Smokey.

Kevin Connelly, a spokesman for the Gorilla Foundation, said the cyberchat
went as well as could be expected and Koko had actually been cut off at
times because the human entering her responses could not type fast enough.

"She was responding to stuff longer than was typed in. The interface was a
problem," Connelly said, adding the event had been filmed and a more
complete transcript of Koko's remarks will be made available.

 He said that initial estimates indicated as many as 20,000 people logged on
to talk to Koko and the session was a success.

"Koko seemed responsive and chatty," Connelly said.

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