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Thanks to this startup, our pets could soon be speaking English

Remember those translating collars from Pixar’s Up? Well, it seems scientists are very close to making it real.

Language is considered by many as an ability exclusive to humans, with many biologists and linguists still believing other species merely communicate by instinct, with no awareness or intention.

Now there’s research coming from many fronts that tell us otherwise.

Scientific research conducted by animal behaviour experts from Northern Arizona University are breaking new ground in their attempts to translate the sounds, movements and facial expressions of animals into English words.

Dr Con Slobodchikoff has been tracking down prairie dogs and capturing footage of them for 30 years. While studying these tapes, he noticed certain nuances in their sounds and movements, prompting him to believe that these animals have their own language system.

It turns out prairie dogs are able to communicate complex commands and instructions, with warnings of incoming threats that include features of the predator such as its size and coat colour.

By decoding prairie dog language, Dr Slobodchikoff and his colleagues have found extensive evidence that prairie dogs have a sophisticated language with numerous distinct dialects, just like different groups of humans.

In 2017, Dr Slobodchikoff funded Zoolingua, a startup aiming to develop technology for us to understand our pets.

A computer scientist is working alongside Slobodchikoff to develope an algorithm capable of transcribing our pets howls and body movements into human words.

Hmm…I wonder what my cat would think of me.

In the near future, artificial intelligence and machine learning will allow us understand what our pets want, carry on a conversation and comprehend the specific meaning of gestures – such as the wagging of the tail or a loud, high-pitched whimper.

“If we abandon the old paradigm that we are intrinsically different and superior to all other life forms, it’s possible to look at animals with greater respect and, like Denise Herzing, start working towards decoding their language,” Dr Slobodchikoff wrote in the Huffington Post.

About the author

Filmmaker. 3D artist. Procrastination guru. I spend most of my time doing VFX work for my upcoming film Servicios Públicos, a sci-fi dystopia about robots, overpopulated cities and tyrant states. @iampineros

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