Koko, Francine and some idiots

web posted March 1999

Who is the bigger fool, the ape that leads or the ape that follows?

On the cutting edge of nonsense and pretty much defining the nature of online chat in the current political climate, America Online hosted a live online chat session in April 1998 with Koko the Gorilla, and Koko's "trainer," Dr. Francine Patterson, who ostensibly uses sign language to convey questions to Koko, who then signs answers back. The chat was moderated by Jenny Hansell and here are a few excerpts from the session.

Jenny Hansell: Welcome, Dr. Patterson and Koko, we're so happy you're here! Is Koko aware that she's chatting with thousands of people?

Koko: Good hear.

Dr. Francine Patterson: Koko is aware.

Jenny Hansell: I'll start taking questions from the audience now. MinyKitty asks, Koko are you going to have a baby in the future?

Koko: Pink

Dr. Francine Patterson: Koko was commenting on the color of my shirt. We had an earlier discussion about colors today.

Koko: Koko--love eat.

Jenny Hansell: Rulucky asks: Do you like to chat with other people?

Koko: fine nipple

Dr. Francine Patterson: Nipple rhymes with people, she doesn't sign people per se, she was trying to do a ''sounds like...''

Jenny Hansell: Dr. Patterson, you've devoted your whole life to this project! What are we learning?

Dr. Francine Patterson: I started the project simply to see if another species could communicate with us in another language, such
as sign language. It turns out that Koko is very creative with that language and can talk about abstract things.

Jenny Hansell: I can see that!

Dr. Francine Patterson: Koko will respond to things at a sophisticated level... She actually discriminates English, not just the words but the things words are made of--phonemes.

Jenny Hansell: Another question from the audience: Does Koko like birds?

Dr. Francine Patterson: Koko just walked away, she's looking out the window...

Jenny Hansell: She's looking at the birds!

Dr. Francine Patterson: There are a number of blue jays that have been frequenting her play yard, exactly! She's going to look at
the birds!

Jenny Hansell: Are there any birds out there now?

Dr. Francine Patterson: One just flew by.

Jenny Hansell: Storm asks: Dear Koko, I've watched you for years now... your gentle spirit is inspiration for many ... I'd like
to know what you'd like for your birthday.

Koko: Birthday. Food smokes.

Jenny Hansell: SMOKES?

Dr. Francine Patterson: You have to understand ... Smoke is also the name of her kitten.

Jenny Hansell: HMBarbari asks Koko: Have you ever tried to teach your kittens sign language?

Dr. Francine Patterson: She's looking out the window right now ... Actually, I can tell you that she has not tried to teach them sign language but she has tries to nurse her kittens.

Koko: Listen.

Dr. Francine Patterson: Koko just signed 'listen' and she wants to hear the phone so I'm going to hold it to her for a second. Did you hear them? (to Koko.)

Koko: Huff.*

Dr. Francine Patterson: She just made a vocalization. Did you hear that? That was her talking on the phone.

Jenny Hansell: Hi Koko! I can hear her! She breathed at me! This is so cool!

Jenny Hansell: Does she watch TV?

Dr. Francine Patterson: Yes, public broadcasting only. Right, so she'd like to look at Hawaii.

Jenny Hansell: ReBeL1999 asks, do you dream at night? Wouldn't it be amazing to know what a gorilla dreams!

Dr. Francine Patterson: I think I may have asked her his once. Do you dream at night when you sleep? Do you dream? I asked her this once and I had to explain it . I asked her if she - what senses that might be used - did she hear things smell things, see things. So I needed to explain what a dream was and I don't remember. I could ask her again. Koko, when you dream, do you hear things, smell things, see things? Do you dream?

Koko: (No response.)

Dr. Francine Patterson: Are those too hard? Let's go for an easy question

Jenny Hansell: Does she have hair, or is it like fur?

Dr. Francine Patterson: She has hair.

Koko: Fine

Dr. Francine Patterson: She has fine hair. It's beautiful!

Koko: sip

Dr. Francine Patterson: I think it's about dinner time for her now.

Jenny Hansell: How do you feel about Michael [a gorilla who has also been trained by Dr. Patterson]?

Koko: foot, foot, good

Jenny Hansell: foot means male, right?

Koko: nipple

Dr. Francine Patterson: She's acting out a little here.

Jenny Hansell: What about Ndume [a gorilla who is Koko's breeding partner]?

Koko: bad

Jenny Hansell: Oh dear

Koko: toilet

Jenny Hansell: Uh oh! From the audience: Koko, do you feel love from the humans who have raised you and cared for you?

Koko: lips, apple give me

Dr. Francine Patterson: People give her her favorite foods.

Koko: love, browse drink nipple

Dr. Francine Patterson: Browse is like ... the little food/snacks we give them.

Koko: koko loves that nipple drink, go

Dr. Francine Patterson: She's kissing her alligator.

Koko: lights off good

Dr. Francine Patterson: Ok. She's ready for dinner!

Jenny Hansell: So we should say goodbye?

Dr. Francine Patterson: She blew a kiss!

Jenny Hansell: Good bye and thank you Koko! Thank you Dr. Patterson!

Koko: look

Jenny Hansell: I would be happy to come see her so she could look at me!

Koko: hat hat

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