What do you think your cat is saying when it meows by your door at 4 AM? What is your dog trying to tell you when it runs in circles barking after the doorbell rings? Well, you might actually be able to answer these questions soon enough thanks to some game-changing research backed by Amazon.
A professor at Northern Arizona University (NAU) has used artificial intelligence (AI) software to analyze and understand calls made by prairie dogs, and is attempting to raise money to develop a translation device that could be applied to our furry household family members.
Con Slobodchikoff, a professor emeritus at NAU’s department of biological sciences, has spent 30 years studying the behaviour of prairie dogs and found that they have a “sophisticated communication system that has all the aspects of language.”
His research has taken off with the dramatic advances in AI, speech recognition, and translation technologies. Using trainable algorithms that can interpret language based on datasets instead of pre-programmed rules, Slobodchikoff says prairie dogs have words for different species of predator and can describe the colour of clothes worn by humans, or the coats of other animals.
As a result, he’s now convinced that other animals – like cats and dogs – use similarly decipherable language.
“So many people would dearly love to talk to their dog or cat – or at least find out what they are trying to communicate,” Slobodchikoff told The Guardian. “A lot of people talk to their dogs and share their innermost secrets. With cats, I’m not sure what they’d have to say. A lot of times it might just be ‘you idiot, just feed me and leave me alone.’”
An Amazon-backed report written by futurist William Higham that builds off Slobodchikoff’s work explains that a translation device may be on the market in as little as 10 years.
“Innovative products that succeed are based around a genuine and major consumer needs. The amount of money now spent on pets – they are becoming fur babies to so many people – means there is huge consumer demand for this. Somebody is going to put this together,” Higham says.