Many of the burning questions of animal research have centered on animal languages and communication. For some reason, linguists, neuroscientists, and zoologists just really really want to be able to talk to animals. Is such a thing possible? Do any forms of animal communication actually follow lexical or patterns like human languages do? Some of the great apes have been able to learn basic sign language, and dogs do actually seem to be able to respond to certain simple verbal commands. Still, achieving true human-animal communication is still the stuff of scientists’ dreams. Thanks to amazing developments in brain scanning capabilities, however, we might not be as far away from talking to animals as we think. According to one leading animal communication researcher, we might only be a decade away from real dog-to-human translation.
Northern Arizona University biologist Dr. Con Slobodchikoff has spent his career studying animal communication. In a recent interview with NBC, Slobodchikoff outlines how his company Zoolingua is already developing artificial intelligence networks are being trained to recognize animal vocalizations and body language in an attempt to create animal-to-human translators. The system still relies on human trainers to ‘teach’ the AI what different animal sounds or bodily movement means, but Slobodchikoff is confident that the technology will soon be able to interpret these signals on their own. Given that AI systems are already capable of literally ‘seeing’ human thoughts simply by reading brain scans, it’s likely not long before animals’ thoughts can be interpreted and translated into human languages.
Here’s the thing I keep wondering, though: do we really want to know what our dogs are thinking and saying? I wonder how many times a day the common house dog considers eating his owners or thinks about excrement. Would you want to hear how your dog feels about licking his own butt while he does it? No thanks.