The State of AI and Pet to Human Communication

Last Updated: February 2, 2024
Pet to Human Communication

While you might speak to your dog or cat and read their body language to get a good idea of their thoughts, we currently have no way to establish true pet-to-human communication.

With the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), that may change in the not-so-distant future!

Pet to Human Communication

AI and machine learning have revolutionized human-to-human translation. Businesses are already using AI translation to maximize productivity in many ways, bridging the divide among languages and cultures to grow.[1] Successful AI translation is readily available, easily accessible and more accurate than most people thought possible a decade ago.

Researchers are taking the success of AI translation to the next level, pushing the boundaries of cross-species communication to one day make it possible to not only understand your pet's emotions and thoughts but also to share your own.

How AI is Opening the Lines of Pet Communication

Artificial intelligence is more advanced than ever, and researchers are using it to its full advantage. AI is already making rapid human-to-human translation possible. You can easily download translation apps that break down communication barriers and allow you to speak with others in foreign languages in real-time.[8]

This technology has been developing for decades and has come a long way since the first machine translation service debuted in 1992.[9] AI makes the concept accessible to the masses, and the advent of natural language processing (NLP) allows machines to comprehend and mimic the nuances of human language. But how does technology help improve pet-to-human communication?

It all comes down to machine learning.

Machine learning is a subset of AI that allows computer systems to "learn" information similarly to humans. ML algorithms absorb information from data instead of using a predetermined equation as a model. ML algorithms require substantial "training," but they become more capable of understanding complex data over time.[10]

Researchers believe machine learning is the ticket to decoding animal speech and communication. Researchers are training machine learning algorithms with enormous datasets of animal sounds and behaviors. They're feeding these algorithms audio clips, videos and more, allowing the system to recognize patterns and make predictions based on what they learn.[11]

artificial intelligence (ai) and machine learning

Current AI Animal Translation Projects in 2024

Several projects are furthering the push to decode animal speech and communication.

Earth Species Project

One of the most famous is the Earth Species Project (ESP). The ESP team consists of AI scientists, biologists and conservation experts. They're building machine-learning models and gathering data about various animal species. They aim to build on decades of bioacoustic and behavioral ecology research to understand how animals communicate. The hope is to use cross-species communication to further conservation efforts.

The ESP is making great strides in its work, and the team is working with experts in many fields to make animal-to-human communication possible. According to the project's technical roadmap, they're working to build the foundations to decode animal speech. That involves creating unified benchmarks and collecting both acoustic and multimodal data. They're also in the midst of gathering animal behavioral data at scale and training self-supervised models (HuBERT).

The project isn't focusing entirely on deciphering animal speech patterns. The team is also developing ways to generate new signals that could unlock two-way communication between humans and animals.

Project Cetacean Translation Initiative

Another major project that's making strides in this field is the Project Cetacean Translation Initiative (CETI). Like ESP, CETI is about marrying technology, science and communication to support conservation efforts. CETI focuses on translating the communication patterns of sperm whales.[15]

CETI officially formed in 2020, but its science dates back several decades. The foundation of Project CETI's work comes from Dr. Roger Payne. Dr. Payne, who acts as principal advisor for CETI, discovered that whales sing to communicate. His findings sparked the "Save the Whales" movement, and Project CETI continues his research. Currently, the team conducts its research in Dominica, an island in the Eastern Caribbean.

Zoolingua

There's also Zoolingua. Zoolingua's founder is animal language expert Con Slobodchikoff, whose work with prairie dogs is often cited as some of the most compelling regarding animal-to-human communication. Zoolingua is pioneering the future of interspecies communication using AI and ML to decode and translate dog vocalizations, facial expressions, and actions.[16]

AI Chicken Translator

In Japan, researchers at the University of Tokyo are using AI and Deep Emotional Analysis Learning (DEAL) to study the clucks of chickens! The team of data scientists, veterinarians and animal psychiatrists hope to translate the vocalizations of chickens to understand their mental state better. This ability could change how we care for these birds.[17]

Those are just a few examples of the many ongoing projects using AI to decipher animal communication.

Pet Translation: When Will Research Make True Pet to Human Communication Possible?

There are many ongoing efforts that aim to decode animal speech patterns and make two-way interspecies communication possible. But will the technology be available soon?

Not likely!

Despite the advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning, there's still a long way to go until we have meaningful ways to communicate with animals. 

Researchers must overcome many intrinsic challenges to make the dream of speaking to pets a reality. One of the biggest is overcoming differences in perceptual and cognitive processes.[18] 

The fact is that animals process information differently than humans do. Not all species are equally different, either. For example, we share a common ancestor with primates, and there are many similarities in how we communicate. We've already had success with cross-species communication with gorillas. For example, there's the amazing story of Koko the gorilla and her ability to use sign language.

Koko the Gorilla

However, the differences between humans and other animals are greater. For example, we don't have much in common with squid or octopi. Therefore, there are inherent differences in our ability to perceive and comprehend their ways of communication.

Humans largely communicate with language, expression and symbols. But animals use a mix of vocalizations, signals, cues and more. There's a greater level of abstraction.[19] While animals like the prairie dog can form sentences and bats develop unique colony dialects, most animals only communicate immediate needs or threats. As a result, there are complex challenges surrounding establishing meaningful communication.

It's not as simple as translating Spanish to English. To truly decipher animal speech, researchers must look into every aspect of communication. It must go beyond basic vocalizations and dive deeper into perception and comprehension, an area of study that will take time to develop.

So when will pet translation be possible? It's difficult to establish an accurate timeline. With AI and ML technologies advancing at the rate they are, it could be a matter of years.

One Amazon-sponsored trends forecast report predicts that a legitimate pet translator could be only a decade away.[19] Others theorize that this technology will take a few more decades to be reliable and accurate enough to be available to the masses.

The Implications of Being Able to Communicate with Animals

communicating with a dog

AI and the desire to communicate with animals are not new. Some of the earliest progress toward advancements in AI began in the mid-19th century, and efforts to decode the language of another species existed back in the 1970s.[2][3]

The desire to use technology to speak with animals is long-lasting. Toymakers even produced devices in the early 2000s that reportedly translated dog barks, with one of the most popular being the Bowlingual from 2003.[4]

But why is this push so important, and what are the implications of being able to communicate with animals?

There are several reasons why the current state of AI is exciting to animal researchers. The implications of success are game-changing. It's an opportunity to gain a new perspective on our world.

Animals see, hear and experience the world differently than humans. Many can go places we can't, detect things we don't see and understand the planet in far more complex ways.[5] Imagine how much we could learn if we could speak to animals and gain their insights.

From an animal lover's perspective, it would transform relationships and improve pet care. Research shows that 95 percent of pet owners worldwide already consider their pets family, and 98 percent say their bonds with animals provide genuine health benefits.[6]

Think of how much we could improve our lives and the lives of our furry friends if we could communicate clearly. We could provide the best care possible, and veterinary medicine would reach new heights of success.

There are also other important implications of pet-to-human communication. The military already trains animals to assist in battle, and we see dogs working alongside police officers and rescue teams.[6] With the ability to communicate, we could see more animals performing jobs humans can't do.

The possibilities are endless, and it's not hard to see why this AI push matters.

A Final Word

The dream of communicating with pets and other animals could become a reality in the near future, but you'll have to wait a little longer than 2024! Researchers are working diligently to make it happen, and AI and ML technologies are bringing us one step closer to having a genuine discussion with our furry friends.

The implications of cross-species communication are profound. It would change the world as we know it, transforming conservation efforts, dramatically improving pet healthcare and giving humans newer ways to bond with animals. We're well on our way to that reality, and advancements in AI could make it happen sooner than you think!

RESOURCES:

  • [1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2022/03/10/how-global-businesses-can-use-ai-translation-to-improve-productivity/?sh=618f24a42f8f
  • [2] https://www.britannica.com/technology/artificial-intelligence/The-Turing-test
  • [3] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jun/08/the-dolphin-who-loved-me
  • [4] https://www.computerworld.com/article/2570471/tech-lite--at-home-with-bowlingual--the-dog-bark-analyzer.html
  • [5] https://www.npr.org/2023/05/24/1177891680/communicating-with-animals#:~:text=embedded audio player"
  • [6] https://habri.org/pressroom/20220116
  • [7] https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/12-ways-animals-have-helped-the-war-effort#
  • [8] https://techhq.com/2023/09/what-is-the-best-realtime-translation-app/
  • [9] https://summalinguae.com/language-technology/a-brief-history-of-machine-translation-when-did-it-start/
  • [10] https://www.mathworks.com/discovery/machine-learning.html
  • [11] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/deciphering-animal-kingdom-pivotal-role-artificial-translating-cain
  • [12] https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/running-ponies/catch-the-wave-decoding-the-prairie-doge28099s-contagious-jump-yips/
  • [13] https://www.jpost.com/health-science/tel-aviv-university-researchers-bats-learn-dialects-from-their-nest-mates-510995
  • [14] https://www.ted.com/talks/tim_landgraf_swarm_intelligence_from_bees_feeding_bees_to_cars_charging_cars/transcript?language=en
  • [15] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2589004222006642
  • [16] https://blog.richardvanhooijdonk.com/en/this-real-life-dr-dolittle-uses-ai-to-translate-animal-language/
  • [17] https://www.sciencetimes.com/articles/46094/20230920/speak-chicken-language-new-ai-translate-what-fowls-saying-scientists.htm
  • [18] https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/deciphering-animal-kingdom-pivotal-role-artificial-translating-cain
  • [19] https://www.iflscience.com/pet-translators-could-be-a-thing-within-the-next-decade-45532

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