Artificial Intelligence Will Help Us Communicate With Animals

Blond happy girl with her chihuahua doggy portrait lying on lawn

Many pet owners consider their animals to be a member of the family much like a son or daughter. But what if we could take our relationships a step further by using technology to communicate with animals? This may soon become a reality as scientists implement artificial intelligence to decode the disparate dialects of our zoological friends.

Communicating with Animals

There have been attempts in the past to create translation devices that can interpret animal sounds and their meaning. Some of these attempts have utterly failed or simply mimic animal sounds, while others have had slightly more success, translating a few sounds that refer to mundane concepts like food. Though some of these endeavors have been exciting or novel at first, they haven’t reached the ability to truly translate what’s going on inside those furry noggins in real-time – at least not yet.

While much of this technology is being used to study animals in the wild, someday soon it may be parlayed into a device for consumers to talk to your dog or cat. Finally, you’ll be able to express to Fido just how much he means to you, or really show your disappointment when he pees on the rug.

The man who is most often touted as leading the charge in decoding bestial lingo is Dr. Constantine Slobodchikoff, the real-life Dr. Doolittle. Slobodchikoff is an expert in animal language and while studying prairie dogs, he learned that the animals use advanced verbal communication to warn each other of predators.

 

Three playing prairie dogs

 

Prairie dogs are able to identify and communicate characteristics about perceived threats such as a predator’s height, weight, size, and color. They use a number of different phonemes to distinguish physical traits and can even remember certain characteristics from the past. Not only do these animals use verbs and nouns, but they consider syntax when gossiping with each other. Maybe that little guy was calling to his friend Allen… or was it Steve?

Slobodchikoff was able to catalog these sounds in order to synthesize their language into English. He’s using artificial intelligence to maintain and develop this catalog, allowing the computer to learn on its own in order to translate the animal jargon to a greater extent.

But Slobodchikoff says that a bias exists among biologists and linguists, with some believing that animals are only able to communicate, they can’t really express emotions or have conversations that aren’t founded solely on instinct. Though most pet owners would hotly contest this if you asked them if their pet has feelings or a personality.

 

Curious puppy lying on the floor and looking at laptop

 

Among the scientific consensus in this field, there isn’t a universal agreement on a common level of consciousness across all species, but scientists studying the gorilla, Koko, have proven that apes are more than capable of thought and feeling. Koko has over 2,000 English words in her vernacular and has expressed emotions, including embarrassment and happiness.

 

Researchers Learn How to Talk to Animals

The first effective animal translator was the Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry, or CHAT, translator. A team of scientists studying a particular group of dolphins decoded whistles and their meanings. One day while swimming with the pod, the CHAT translated one dolphin’s whistle to the word sargassum, a type of seaweed.

Dolphins are some of the most intriguing animals for scientists to study, as they are considered to be the second most intelligent animal on Earth next to humans. Scientists have conducted profound studies of porpoises, with one scientist even developing a romantic relationship with the dolphin she was studying. Another project resulted in evidence that dolphins are capable of creating their own distinct culture.

One group of dolphins was observed wearing sea sponges on their beaks to protect themselves from sharp rocks and coral when hunting for fish on the sea floor. But not all dolphins show this behavior when its easier to find fish in open water. The dolphins that do use sponges pass down the technique to their children and typically associate more with other sponge-wearing fashionistas, showing evidence of cultural dissemination. If dolphins exhibit this level of intelligence, what more could we learn from the further development of CHAT?

In Sweden, a company called Gavagai AB is developing a program using AI analysis software to decipher dolphin-speak. The program has already mastered 40 human languages.

Gavagai’s software for decoding human language is currently used to glean information about the type of emotion a speaker is exuding, and companies interested in this utility believe that decoding dolphin will further that capability.

 

Head of dolphin with an open mouth in the blue water

 

This same technology is being used in translating the tongues of other animals, including rhesus macaques and white-cheeked gibbons. So far, it has recorded subtleties distinguishing hundreds of different gibbon calls. These animals make “hoo” sounds that have different patterns and intonations tied to different concepts and words. Scientists then feed these to a computer that maps out their meaning and context.

With Google Translate’s artificial intelligence system, human languages are being learned and translated at an exponential rate. It was recently noticed that the technology was showing improvements overnight that would trump the advancements it had made over its entire lifetime. When this type of technology is applied to translators aimed at animal language, scientists like Slobodchikoff believe it will lead to a pet translator on the market within the next decade. Are you ready to converse with your pet?



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Scientists Successfully Create Brain Interface That Improves Memory

Cognitive-boosting prosthetics are quickly becoming a reality as doctors are seeing success with a neural interface that improves memory function by stimulating electrodes implanted in the brain.

This “closed-loop hippocampal neural prosthesis” has moved from testing on rodents, to actual human application with positive results. The device works by sending electrical signals from an apparatus outside the body to electrodes internally connected to the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped part of the brain that plays a major role in memory.

Researchers involved in the program describe their approach as aiming to use patient’s own neural codes for memory through a closed-loop system in which electrical signals are exchanged instantaneously.

Patients using the system showed a 37 percent improvement in short term memory tests. Scientists were even more surprised to find that long-term memory of 30 to 60 minute intervals had also improved by a similar 35 percent.

But these electrical zaps weren’t just random stimulation. Researchers carefully recorded where and when specific regions of the patients’ brains reacted when performing tasks involving the use of memory, and carefully tailored electrical pulses to induce a similar response.

closed-loop hippocampal neural prosthesis

 

The team originally tested their method on brain tissue, before moving on to rodents, and then monkeys. Now, with their success in humans, they will continue to develop the technology in hopes of someday having a fully implantable apparatus to boost cognitive function.

One of the members of the team touted memory as being part and parcel of one’s personality. Our collection of memories in life certainly play an important role in individuality allowing us to recall experiences that shape our lives.

The team hopes this technology could one day help restore memory function to those affected by drugs, disease, and brain injury.

Their success in memory enhancement comes at a time when interest in cognitive boosting technology is piquing. A number of scientists have been working on mapping out the brains’ neurological connections in hope of developing computer-brain interfaces for superhuman neurological function.

Elon Musk is currently invested in a project called Neuralink, a neural mesh laid over the brain, merging AI with human cognition. Musk says the concept would ideally improve the speed of connection between the brain and one’s digital self, focusing particularly on output.

With the recent success of this closed-loop hippocampal prosthesis, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to expect some investment from Silicon Valley in the future.

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