If you dreamed of being the next Dr. Dolittle as a kid, an Amazon-backed report says your dream will soon be a reality. William Higham, futurologist and co-author of the Amazon-supported report, has publicly announced his belief that a real, working pet translation device will be ready for consumers within the next 10 years.
He backs up his claim with work being done by Con Slobodchikoff, a biology professor at Northern Arizona University. The scientist has spent the last 30 years studying prairie dogs and says the North American rodents have a language that is completely decipherable by humans.
According to Slobodchikoff, prairie dogs have different words for predators and colors. They talk to each other to describe possible threats and Slobodchikoff’s findings show they have “a sophisticated communication system that has all the aspects of language.”
Pet owners may not be interested in what a prairie dog has to say, but Higham and other researchers believe the same concept can be applied to cats and dogs. He predicts that the continually growing trend of pet owners treating their dogs and cats like family will drive the technology into fruition. He said,
“Innovative products that succeed are based around genuine and major consumer needs. The amount of money now spent on pets—they are becoming fur babies to so many people—means there is huge consumer demand for this. Somebody is going to put this together.”
Convinced he’s onto something big, Slobodchikoff is looking for funding to further his research. He used AI software to analyze prairie dog sounds, and he plans to continue his work by also taking advantage of the huge advancements being made in automatic speech recognition and translation.
Current technology uses algorithms to interpret language on huge datasets. This method has seen great success for translating between spoken languages, but turning woofs into words is Slobodchikoff’s ultimate goal.
Besides opening communication between dogs and their human best friends, researchers hope the technology will have a more useful purpose. People who are around dogs often can usually figure out what different kinds of barks and sounds mean, but people without pets and young children don’t always know how to interpret a dog’s behavior.
Countless accidents and dog attacks happen simply because the human end of the conversation doesn’t realize when a dog was saying “back off.” A translation device would give those people a warning if a dog starts showing signs of aggression or anxiety.
The futuristic device could give you that look into your dog’s mind that you’ve always wanted, but Slobodchikoff admits cat owners might be disappointed.
“With cats I’m not sure what they’d have to say. A lot of time it might just be ‘you idiot, just feed me and leave me alone.’”
Regardless of what your pet has to say, mark your calendar for ten years from now so you can finally find out what they really think about you.