Technology has made significant advances in our lives in recent years, but figuring out why the beloved family pooch peed on the rug is still frustratingly out of our grasp. That may soon change though. Scientists in the US are working on an instrument that would use artificial intelligence (AI) to learn and translate animal's vocalizations and facial expressions into simple English.
According to animal behavior expert, Professor Con Slobodchikoff, he hopes his research, along with finding from other academics, will allow pets and their owners to speak using a 'pet translator' in less than ten years' time. Dr. Con Slobodchikoff from Northern Arizona University has spent more than 30 years studying prairie dogs and the sophisticated way they communicate.
Besides, the professor has studied hours of footage of dogs engaged in a wide variety of behavior - including barking, growling and howling - and is utilizing artificial intelligence to understand their communication.
He hopes that by using machine learning, computers will be able to tell us what a dog's growl or the wag of the tail really means. Humans will be better equipped to deal with animals in the future if they know exactly what they want, he says.
"You could use that information and instead of backing the dog into a corner, give the dog more space," he told NBC News.
In 2013, Slobodchikoff, who is currently Professor Emeritus at Northern Arizona University, had published "Chasing Doctor Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animals," a study on the unique language characteristics of animals. In his work, he claims animals and humans will be able to effectively communicate in just ten years' time.
However, based on his study, Slobodchikoff and his colleagues have developed an algorithm that turns prairie dogs' vocalizations into English. They have even founded a company called Zoolingua to develop more technology that could allow humans to communicate with animals in an understandable language.
The researcher has spent much of his career studying the behavior of North American prairie dogs, animals that possess their own complex language system used to communicate complicated commands or instructions. The clever rodents use calls which alert their group to incoming threats - describing specifics such as predator's size and coat color. According to Slobodchikoff, prairie dogs make high-pitched calls to warn others of predators.
The calls vary depending on the size and type of predator in their midst. The prairie dogs combine the calls in a number of ways to communicate and they are even able to indicate the color of a nearby human's clothing.
"I thought, if we can do this with prairie dogs, we can certainly do it with dogs and cats," Slobodchikoff was quoted as saying.
Slobodchikoff and his team are sifting through thousands of videos of dogs to analyze their various barks and body movements. The videos will be used to teach an AI algorithm about these communication signals.
"This kind of technology could help humans better understand dogs and their behavior. You could use that information and instead of backing the dog into a corner, give the dog more space," Slobodchikoff said.