It has been reported in the press lately that relatively soon ‘pet translators’ will be developed, allowing humans to understand animal languages. Professor Con Slobodchikoff at Northern Arizona University is attempting to develop a cat and dog translation device after he used AI software to analyse calls made by prairie dogs. Professor Slobodchikoff claims to have discovered that the animals had different words to describe colours and species of predators, and believes that this concept could be applied to household pets. A report building on Mr Slobodchikoff’s work, written by Amazon Futurist William Higham, suggests that pet translation devices are not too far in the future. He theorizes that given the extreme demand for pet orientated products, it is only a matter of time before someone cashes in on the idea.

Juliane Kaminski, a psychologist from Portsmouth University, is not as optimistic about the likelihood of creating an animal-human translator. She does not think it is likely that AI translators would be capable of translating the language of dogs, mainly as she does not believe that the way dogs communicate can be classed as a language. She states “we would not describe dogs’ forms of communication as language in the scientific sense. They do give out rudimentary signals of what they want and how they’re feeling.”

Adventures in animal-human translation have already been attempted. The Nordic Society for Invention and Discovery have attempted to develop a dog translation device, a headset designed to measure the dog’s brain activity to help communicate what the animal is thinking via a speaker on the collar. However, this project was put on hold when the scale of the project was fully realised, with Co-Creator Per Cromwell admitting that “it needed more research”. Tomas Maxetti who was also involved in the project was underwhelmed by the results, stating that the device “could tell you the dog was tired or angry. But you can kind of see that anyway”. 

It is worth noting that even these small victories in animal translation may not be entirely useless. Although it might only be capable of picking up on the most basic animal signals that most of us would recognise with ease, devices that can translate this animal behaviour or ‘language’, into human language may be useful for those who lack intuition, or young children who can often dangerously misinterpret animal signals. For instance, a study found that when young children were shown a picture of a dog with menacingly bared teeth they concluded that the dog was ‘happy’ and ‘smiling’ and that they would like to hug it. If a translation device, could decode and explain even very basic animal behaviour, this still could be a help to some of the population.

The work done by The Nordic Society for Invention and Discovery and Professor Slobodchikoff is far from the only investigations being done into Animal Translations. Aza Raskin (designer of tech features and software used worldwide) along with Britt Selvitelle (founder engineer of Twitter) believe they are making leaps and bounds in their research of animal languages. They have analyzed 70 human languages and claim to have established that all have a universal shape, so a computer can translator one into another without any prior understanding or knowledge. They then intend to add to their database animal communication, including whales, monkeys and elephants. They believe this will enable them to compare the structure of human and animal languages, and then create an AI translator that will be able to de-code what animals are saying.

These are extremely bold claims, and not ones that are currently being accepted without question. A Professor of Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, Geoff Pullum, penned a scathing reply to these claims in The Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled ‘Nonsense about Universal Translation, Strictly for the Gullible’, in which he describes the notion of a universal language structure that will allow translation between languages (animal and human) simply as ‘crazy-talk’. 

What do you make of the idea that animal to human language translation isn’t too far off? Does the idea of a universal structure of language seem plausible to you? Let us know! 

Claim your free info pack now!

Yay! Check your inbox for your free download :)