New advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning could soon make it possible to translate the languages of other animals to English, and the first application of the technology might allow you to converse with your pet, reports NBC News.
The research was born out of a lifelong study of the communication of prairie dogs by Dr. Con Slobodchikoff, a professor emeritus of biology at Northern Arizona University. Oversized chirpy rodents might seem like strange subjects for research into animal languages, but prairie dogs actually have surprisingly sophisticated vocalizations. Slobodchikoff has discovered that they have distinct calls for different types of predators, and can even distinguish the sizes of those predators. In fact, prairie dogs have been shown to be capable of specifying the various colors of human clothing.
In order to more accurately classify these complex calls, Slobodchikoff developed an algorithm that essentially translates them into English. It might just be the world’s first interspecies translator.
Slobodchikoff didn’t stop there, however. Just last year, he founded a company called Zoolingua, which is attempting to develop technology that can translate the sounds, facial expressions, and body movements of all sorts of animals– most notably, your pets.
Dogs make for an ideal test subject, because previous research has shown that our canine companions are already adept at interpreting and understanding human communication. With Slobodchikoff’s translator, however, we could take dog-human conversation to a whole new level.
“I thought, if we can do this with prairie dogs, we can certainly do it with dogs and cats,” Slobodchikoff said.
Currently, the project is in the rough development phase, which involves amassing thousands of videos of dogs showing various barks and body movements. Researchers are categorizing these forms of communication and loading them into an A.I. for processing via Slobodchikoff’s algorithm.
Eventually, the hope is that researchers at Zoolingua will be able to produce a device that can simply be pointed at a dog to translate its behavior and barks into English. At some point, perhaps the device can be used for communication in both directions, to also translate English into a series of woofs.
It’s the sort of technology that could finally help us to one day realize the longstanding dream of conversing with other highly intelligent creatures, such as dolphins and whales, other primates, elephants, and maybe even octopi.
Let’s just not be too disappointed if the level of conversation still only pertains to begging for food, throwing a ball, or going for a walk.