John Bradshaw, an honorary research fellow at the University of Bristols vet school and author, writes that technology means we could soon be able to translate barks. We actually need better ways to understand their needs
On 1 April 2010, Google announced a breakthrough for the animal kingdom: an Android App that would allow an impressive scope of species, from guinea pig to tortoise, to speak in English. The date was, naturally, significant. Presumably the advertised animal linguistic database, against which the neurobiological acoustics of the animals utterances “wouldve been” compared, never existed. The tortoise file would have been pretty limited, in any case.
Now, the idea of talking animals has resurfaced as part of Amazons Shop The Future conception, but this time it seems more serious. Its mainly focused on puppies, though in principle it could be adapted for other domestic animals like cats maybe even tortoises. The core of the technology would be a collar that monitors precisely how the animal is moving. When it recognises from those motions that the animal wants something, the speaking part of the collar activates. For instance, when the dog scratches at the back door, the collar might say I need to go out !. The speech part of the collar can be programmed to speak in the owners interpretation of their pets voice which should incidentally provide scope for all manner of humour, both intended and unintended.
Amazon also suggests that the collar might translate barks into English, coming close to Googles tongue-in-cheek claim of converting animal speech into human vernacular, but there seems little point the dogs bark would most likely drown out the voice coming from the collar. There might also be some technical obstacles in get the collar to recognise specific elements of each puppies body-language, since dogs come in such a wide variety of shapes, sizes and energies. Imagine a collar designed for a Saint Bernard being accidentally swapped for one be available for international borders collie.
Although Amazons intents in announcing such a product may have been more headline-grabbing than thought-through, they do create the more serious issue of how well we communicate with our pets. Despite all the time pressures imposed by modern lifestyles, many of us still desire to include pets in our families. Learning to understand a new puppy takes time, but many new owneds seem woefully unprepared for this, doing no research into what dogs needs are before buying one, often over the internet. The current furor for flat-faced puppies such as pugs and French bulldogs, many of which suffer debilitate and painful genetic disorders as they age, is just one consequence of this lack of forethought.
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