'Pet translator' letting humans talk to DOGS could be available in less than a decade

pet translator
Rens Hageman
Rens Hageman

Do you talk to your dog? Soon it may be able to talk back!

The Mirror reports that scientists are busy working on a "pet translator" that could finally let owners communicate with their dogs and cats. Using artificial intelligence to analyse vocalisations and facial expressions, the researchers from Northern Arizona University believe they'll have the tech ready in under a decade.

Led by Dr. Con Slobodchikoff, a professor emeritus of biology at the university, the team have been working with prairie dogs (which are not technically dogs) for the last 30 years. They found that the high-pitched calls they make to warn each other of predators vary depending on which type of predator it is.

With help from a computer scientist, Dr Slobodchikoff was able to turn these vocalisations into English.

“I thought, if we can do this with prairie dogs, we can certainly do it with dogs and cats,” Slobodchikoff told NBC News .

His team is now busy assembling thousands of hours of video of dogs barking so the computer can analyse their different sounds as well as the facial expressions they make. Eventually, the algorithm will be able to interpret what these noises mean and when they're uttered and translate them for humans.

The ultimate goal is to create a gadget that can translate what your dog wants - so "woof woof" becomes "I want to go for a walk". It could also be used, for example, to limit animal violence by decoding when a dog is angry or if it's simply afraid.

“You could use that information and instead of backing the dog into a corner, give the dog more space,” Slobodchikoff said.

Although it's unlikely that humans will ever be able to communicate on complex topics with man's best friend, separate research has indicated they have a much greater emotional intelligence than we give them credit for.

The findings have come from the University College London and will form part of the upcoming Royal Institute Christmas Lectures being given by Sophie Scott, a professor of neuroscience at University College London.

According to Professor Scott, our tendency to view dogs and other pets like we would a child means we also underestimate them. Meanwhile, dogs will view their owner in the same way as a wolf pack would view the alpha male.

"There was a study this year that showed that dogs don't like being hugged," Professor Scott told The Times . "You look at photographs of dogs being hugged by people and the dogs show objective signs of distress. The dogs really like being with their owners, they want to be with their owners, but they don't want to be held. It provokes anxiety in them: as an animal, they want to be able to move freely. And pretty much everyone's reaction to this was: well, I don't think that's my dog. It was a very good example of this asymmetry. Dogs are great at reading us but we are pretty shocking at reading them."

(Story source: The Mirror)

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