Scientists hope to use Artificial Intelligence to develop a Computerized Doctor Dolittle!

Nowadays computer programs that are capable of translating from one language to another are commonplace. You can be visiting France and whenever you have difficulty making yourself understood you can always use your smartphone to translate what you’re trying to say into perfect French. Or if you want to read a scientific paper that’s written in German you just have to click  a key of your computer and you’ll have an English version in seconds. What’s next, are computers going to translate what our pets are saying into English.

Yep! In about ten years we’ll all be able to know just what our pets are saying according to Professor Con Slobodchikoff of Northern Arizona University. Professor Slobodchikoff should know, he spend 30 years expanding our knowledge of animal communications through his study of the complex language system prairie dogs use to alert each other to potential threats from predators.

It’s been recognized for a long time that when a group of prairie dogs is foraging for food, one or two members of the group will stand on guard, ready to chirp a warning whenever they sight a coyote or eagle. What Professor Slobodchikoff has learned in 30 years of study is that those warning signals are actually very complex messages with the size, type and distance to possible threats contained in the various chirps and whistles. Indeed some of the messages can be as detailed as “there are some bison off in the distance, no danger” to “an eagle is swooping down on us, run!!!

Prairie Dog giving the ‘All Clear’ signal (Credit: Montana State Parks)

Slobodchikoff has even written a book “Chasing Doctor Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animals”. The book, published in 2013, details his many years, and many successes in understanding the ways animals communicate. Slobodchikoff now says that. “If we can do this with prairie dogs, we can certainly do it with dogs and cats.”

So Professor Slobodchikoff is now studying hours of film of dogs engaged in a wide variety of activities and behaviors. He is hoping to use Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to understand what all of the different barks, growls and tail positions mean in order to translate just what man’s best friend is trying to tell us.

Once Slobodchikoff has deciphered fido’s language it will be comparatively simple process to develop an app that we can put on our cell phones so that we will all finally know: does that wagging tail mean ‘I love you” or ‘Feed me’.

Actually we’ll use our phones to understand what they say

This kind of technology could help humans better understand dogs and their behavior.” Professor Slobodchikoff says. “You could use that information and instead of backing a dog into a corner, give the dog more space.”

After dogs will come cats of course, then other pets. I don’t know if tropical fish will be worth the trouble, I’m quite certain that all mine are capable of signaling is ‘Feed Me’.

If you’d like to learn more about Professor Slobodchikoff’s research, or even buy his book, click on the link below to be taken to his website.

About Con’s Work