We often talk to out furry friends in human language to communicate and express our feelings. While there are times when the pets actually understand what the owner is trying to say, you can’t really understand the exact message your dog or cat wants to convey to you when they bark or meow. But now, looks like this might change in around a decade or less as the scientists in the US are working on an instrument to learn and translate the animal vocalisations and facial expressions into a language that humans understand.
The work is being conducted by Dr Con Slobodchikoff, Northern Arizona University professor who has spent more than three decades studying and researching on the patterns of prairie dogs and the sophisticated way they communicate. Slobodchikoff and his colleague developed an algorithm that converts the prairie dogs’ vocalisations into English language. They developed a company called Zoolingua in order to research more on a technology similar to a “pet translator” that could let humans communicate with their pets or animals in an understandable language.
For example, the prairie dogs make high-pitched warning calls when they feel the presence of a predator in the area. These calls depend on the size and type of predator in the creature. The North American rodent species combine their calls in a number of ways to communicate, with some of the combinations supposedly capable of recognising the colour of a nearby human’s clothing.
Slobodchikoff thought that if they could work with the technology on prairie dogs, then they could certainly work with it on dogs and cats. For the time being, Slobodchikoff has his main focus on dogs, as his aim is to come up with a device that could translate a dog’s barks into English words or sentences. Slobodchikoff and his team are now going through several videos of dogs to analyse their different types of barks and body movements.
Once enough data is collected, the video clips will help them teach an Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithm about the methods the animals use to communicate. This may also require humans in interpreting the barks, tail wags and other body gestures of the dogs. Slobodchikoff is relying more on the existing and future research to develop a pet translator that provides results based on careful experiments, rather than guesswork. Apart from helping the humans understand the messages their pets are trying to send, the Slobodchikoff’s pet translator project and other similar types of AI based technology may also help the people recognize sick animals while still early.
Even though the technology sounds interesting and promising, it will probably not be out in the market anytime soon. In the year 2013, Slobodchikoff was quoted as saying that the pet translators might be out within a decade or so, assuming that an extensive amount of research is being done in relation to such a project. William Higham, Amazon researcher and “futurologist” had also predicted that it might take 10 years or so before such kind of devices make their way to the market.