Could a Translator for Woofs, Meows and Wags Be Coming Soon?

It's only a matter of time.

With all of the latest and greatest tech out there in the pet world, it was only going to be a matter of time before some genius was going to come up with a way for us to know what the heck our pets are trying to say to us. You know, those times when the cat decides a 3 a.m. meow-fest is in order? Or what about when your dog just lets out a random bark for no apparent reason and seems super melancholy?

Thanks to some highly sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI), scientists are figuring out ways to translate animals’ vocalizations and facial expressions. A trend report released by Amazon last year even predicted that a pet translator would become a reality in the next ten years.

One of the most esteemed people in this space, Dr. Con Slobodchikoff — a prof of biology at Northern Arizona University and the author of “Chasing Doctor Dolittle: Learning the the Language of Animals”— has dedicated most of his professional career to studying prairie dogs and their communication style. According to Slobodchikoff, the dogs use various calls to alert the rest of the group about certain traits pertaining to predators. They also can combine these calls to indicate the color of a nearby person’s clothes. 

Last year, he founded a company called Zoolingua with the hope of creating tools that will translate pet sounds, facial expressions, and body movements, because if he can decipher what Prairie Dogs are saying, why stop there?! He’s hoping to teach an AI algorithm about bark and body movement communication styles, using scientific research to help explain what certain barks or tail wags actually mean. The ultimate goal is to one day build a device that can take your dog’s woofs and your cat’s meows and translate them into English words. Although I’m pretty sure I can already figure out my dog’s facial expressions and barks which in regular rotation include “SQUIRREL! Let me out NOW!” in addition to “More salmon please!” and “Walk…now…NOW!” (Subtle, right?!)

Other than being able to pickup on non-verbal cues from our favorite furry companions, this technology will also come in handy for animals with misunderstood behavioral problems who end up in shelters. For instance, Slobodchikoff says that we might be able to figure out why a dog might be fearful, “and instead of backing the dog into a corner, give the dog more space.” For farmers, this might mean being able to interpret facial cues and know when one of their animals is sick and in pain.

Even though I pretty much assume most barks pertain to food, squirrel spotting, walks or potty breaks, I gotta admit I would LOVE to know if my dog is ever angry or sad. Fur mom guilt is real y’all! What do you think your pet is trying to say to you?!

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