The idea of humans being able to talk to and understand animals may soon become a reality. A researcher is working on a device that may be used as a pet language translator in the future.
Using artificial intelligence, scientists learn how to translate vocalizations and facial expressions of animals into something that humans can understand.
Animal behavior expert Con Slobodchikoff is one of these researchers whose work may allow pets and their owners to effectively converse with each other using a pet translator in less than ten years.
Slobodchikoff, from Northern Arizona University, has studied footage of dogs engaged in a range of behaviors including growling, barking and howling, and used AI to understand how these animals communicate.
He hopes that with the help of machine learning, computers can help humans understand what a particular gesture of pets such as the wagging of the tail, or growling really means.
The researcher has been studying North American prairie dogs for 30 years. He found that the animals have their own language system that conveys complicated instructions and commands.
The rodents also use calls that alert members of their group of incoming threats. Interestingly, these warnings include specific information about the predator such as its size and coat color.
Working with a computer scientist, Slobodchikoff developed an algorithm that converted the prairie dog's vocalizations into English. He has since expanded his work to include studying the behaviors and barkings of dogs.
In 2017, he founded the Zoolingua company to develop a similar tool he used to understand the prairie dog's vocalization to translate facials expressions, sounds and body movements of pets.
"If we can do this with prairie dogs, we can certainly do it with dogs and cats," the animal expert said.
Slobodchikoff studies videos of dogs showing different barks and body movements. He plans to use this to teach an AI algorithm about the communication signals used by animals.
The work is still at an early stage but this could pave way for animals and humans having more effective communication in just ten years. Slobodchikoff wants to use scientific research based on careful experiments to decipher the meaning of a dog's behavior.
Slobodchikoff's ultimate goal is to create a device that humans can pinpoint at a dog to translate barks and woofs into English words. If this becomes possible, humans will be able to know exactly what their pets want and would be more capable of dealing with animals in the future.