What If Your Dog Could Talk to You?

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could understand what your dog is trying to say when it barks? What if instead of barking, your dog could communicate in words that you can understand? While it will never be possible for your dog to speak words, there is new technology that may bring you closer to your dog than you have ever been before.

Scientists are using artificial intelligence to learn how to translate facial expressions and vocalizations of different animals into speech that humans can understand. For pet owners, this can give you an insight into what your pet thinks.

Current research includes AI systems learning to understand and differentiate between the dozen calls that marmoset monkeys use to communicate with each other. Another study is using AI to read the expressions of sheep’s faces to better understand when a sheep is feeling pain.

According to an article by NBC News, Dr. Con Slobodchikoff, a profession emeritus of biology at Northern Arizona University, is a frontrunner in researching animal communication. For more than 30 years, Slobodchikoff has been studying prairie dogs. During this time, he has come to the conclusion that prairie dogs have a sophisticated way of communicating verbally that he considers language.

This prairie dog language includes different calls that can alert the rest of the group to a nearby predator. Surprisingly enough, these calls vary depending on the type of predator and its size. Slobodchikoff even realized that these animals can create calls that indicate the color of the clothing on a nearby person.

While this work is already monumental, Slobodchikoff wasn’t prepared to stop there. He worked with a colleague to create an algorithm that can turn the prairie dog vocalizations into English, which lead to the founding of Zoolingua, a company that is developing a similar tool that can translate the sounds, expressions, and body movements of pets.

While the work is still in an early stage, Slobodchikoff is gathering videos of dogs barking and moving to teach the AI about the communication signals. Once the group determines what each communication signal means, the AI will be informed on the meanings. To determine these meanings, Slobodchikoff plans to conduct more experiments instead of just guessing.

The ultimate goal of this research is to create a device that you can point at your dog to translate its barks into words. With this type of device, humans would be able to know if that bark means that their dog need to go out for a potty break or if it is hungry.

Other benefits to this technology could start in animal shelters, where animals with behavioral problems are often euthanized instead of people trying to better understand their issues. It could also help veterinarians better understand medical problems pets are facing, which could even save lives.

Would you buy a device that helps you understand your dog’s attempts at communications?