'IF WE could talk to the animals'. It's more than just a line from a terrible, terrible film by Eddie Murphy*. It could soon become a reality, according to Amazon, which claims we could be chatting to our doggie pals within 10 years.
William Higham of Next Big Thing co-authored the report with Amazon, and explains that he believes that devices that can ‘speak dog' are closer than we think.
"Innovative products that succeed are based on a genuine and major consumer needs. The amount of money now spent on pets - they are becoming fur babies to so many people - means there is huge consumer demand for this. Somebody is going to put this together."
Wait. What? So basically, he's saying that because we want it, someone will make it? Awesome. So where's our jetpack then, Higham?
But Higham does back up his fancy with examples of work such of that of Con Slobodchikoff of Northern Arizona University, who has managed to ascertain the nuances in the howls of prairie dogs (they're not dogs, fact fans) that identify not just their own kind from humans or rocks, but the colour of their clothes and shiz.
Though Slobodchikoff warns: "With cats I'm not sure what they'd have to say. A lot of times it might just be "you idiot, just feed me and leave me alone".
We're not sure they'd be that diplomatic.
What is certain, though, is that machine learning and algorithmic data gathering have advanced so much in the past few years that the idea that a computer can look at huge quantities of data and make a meaningful interpretation of a bark or meow, and offer a real-time translation within a short enough period to have a conversation, is a lot more likely.
But animal behaviourists are less optimistic. After all, as they point out, a cat could make the same noise with a tail tilted and still, and the same tail swishing, and it could mean something entirely different.
In other words, body language comes into it all. And yes, big data can do that, but can it do it in a practical form factor for everyday use?
Then, of course, computers can't relate to humans, so why should they be able to relate to animals?, And for that matter why should we? After all - was it not Wittgenstein that said: "If a lion could speak, we could not understand him."
So if you're waiting for a tete-a-tete-a-Tiddles, we'd advise you don't hold your breath. µ
*Yes, pedants, that's the joke....
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