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Conversing with Fido? Scientists claim that AI may one day allow us to communicate with dogs via a “pet translator”

Can you imagine what dogs would say if they could speak any human language? It’s an idea that has been around for quite a long time now, and has even been the subject of many jokes, skits, and comics. However, scientists are now saying that it could be real a lot sooner than you might think – all because of recent advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning.

According to Dr. Con Slobodchikoff, a professor of biology from Northern Arizona University, new technology will soon allow the interpretation of the calls of prairie dogs, which could lead to the creation of similar technology that applies to other animals – like dogs and even cats. This is all based on new research that looks into using artificial intelligence and machine learning to figure out exactly what these animals are saying.

Dr. Slobodchikoff is the author of a book titled, “Chasing Doctor Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animals,” and is of the firm belief that – at least in the case of prairie dogs in particular – animals have learned to use a sophisticated form of vocal communication that is nothing if not a full-blown language of their own. He sees this as enough of a starting point for developing future technologies that will allow humans to interpret the language of other animals, especially pets.

So when exactly can you expect to see this eventual “pet translator” in use? According to Dr. Slobodchikoff himself, ten years – with extensive research. He’s certainly doing his part to make sure it happens sooner rather than later. “I thought, if we can do this with prairie dogs, we can certainly do it with dogs and cats,” he said.

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According to other experts in the field, a successful method of communicating clearly with pets and other animals would mean the end of many things that cause problems and confusion among pet owners and generally anyone who cares the least bit about animals. For instance, it would be easier for farmers to tell if their sheep need assistance, since they would be able to hear so directly from the sheep themselves.

“Farmers find it difficult to recognize pain in the sheep,” said Dr. Krista McLennan, a lecturer in animal behavior from the University of Chester in England. For this reason, she devised a scale that allows easy estimation of pain levels based on the facial expression of the animals. Some of the signs her scale uses are folded ears and retracted lips, among other things.

While reference points such as these might be useful, they could never compare to an actual tech-based animal language translator. Which, in the opinion of Dr. Slobodchikoff, could be coming very soon. “The amount of money now being spent on pets means there is huge consumer demand for this,” he said. “Somebody is going to put this together.”

The first efforts at such a piece of technology could focus solely on getting animal thoughts and actions translated into a language that humans can understand. But of course, the ultimate form of it would be something that not only allows humans to listen, but also talk back to animals and effectively engage them in dialog. The aim would be to understand enough of their supposed speech and figure out how exactly they can be helped, in case they needed anything.

There is also hope that it could become the answer to the problem of quickly diagnosing diseases in animals, pets or otherwise. If the expert opinions on this matter hold true, then you can expect the first working pet translators to arrive sometime in 2028.

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