Owners will soon have two-way conversations with their pets, scientists say

Scientists have been creating technologies that can use artificial intelligence to discern what animals are saying — students at Tel Aviv University in Israel have even ‘translated’ bats’ communication sounds

Experts say humans will soon start eavesdropping on animals’ conversations

Scientists claim we will soon have a two-way conversation with our pets thanks to the invention of the ‘Dr. Dolittle Machine’.

Experts around the world are involved in the creation of various technologies that can use artificial intelligence to discern what animals are saying, who they are communicating with and, in some cases, even identifying which creatures are talking.

In an experiment conducted by a team at Tel Aviv University in Israel, students used ultrasonic frequency detectors to “translate” the humming noises of bats.

Dr Yossi Yoval told BBC Radio 4 the discovery was “like a miracle, like magic”.

He explained that bats emit signals of mixed frequencies that echo in their surroundings.

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Experts have been studying who animals are communicating with and which creatures are talking


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The bat’s brain can then pick up these echoes and use them to create a picture in their minds, like “zoom in and out with your eyes.”

Doctors say it’s similar to — but not explicitly — their animal “language.”

Dr Yossi said: “Echolocation, although its primary function is perception, can definitely be used to convey social information.

“There’s a lot of literature on bat eavesdropping, listening to what other bats are saying.”

But with the help of artificial intelligence, humans, too, could soon begin eavesdropping on animals’ conversations, he said.

“Machine learning could revolutionize our understanding of animal communication,” he said.

“We recorded several bats over several months … annotating the context in which these sounds were made.

One day, owners may understand their pets on another level


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“We show that we can determine the context of a vocalization based on its spectral parameters.

“So we can say that this vocalization is coming from the competition for food with a very high degree of accuracy.”

The team found that they could also pinpoint who was speaking, such as whether it was a male arguing over food.

None of this would have been possible without the help of technology, the zoology lecturer said.

“To listen to these different interactions, the truth is that it’s hard to hear the difference between them,” he said.

“But once you use these machine learning algorithms, we try to find the differences between them.”

Cognitive scientist Natalie Uomini is conducting a similar study of crow communication using another “Dr Dolittle machine,” studying New Caledonian crows on a small Pacific island.

She hopes the artificial intelligence she uses in her research will soon be able to discern which crow said what and to whom.

Clever crows carve hooks from branches, fish food from crevices, and communicate with rattling sounds and movements.

“We’re not yet sure what makes an individual call, and that’s what machine learning can tell us,” she said.

“Whatever the individual features in sounds, they may be similar to the way humans distinguish one from another.”

Meanwhile, Linda Erb of the Dolphin Research Center in Key West, Florida, built a keyboard-like machine to communicate with her beloved sea creatures.

She came up with the idea after a strange encounter with a dolphin named Teresa – she thought it told her she was pregnant and used echolocation to give her a strange “tingling sensation” in the back of her neck.

Linda said: “You might think a keyboard for a dolphin without hands sounds a little weird, but they’re very manipulative and they can use different parts of their body to manipulate objects, including their beaks.

“Dolphins hear a specific computer-generated whistle that is novel to them, and they get a specific object or activity.

“Essentially, it’s like giving the dolphins a vending machine…they show patterns very similar to what we see when young children learn language.”

But the team at the research center was stunned when the dolphins started mimicking the signals — their keyboards made a “ball” sound when they encountered a ball, and even combined words to ask about things like belly rubs.

Robotics expert Daniela Rus, another scientist working on the “Dolittle machine,” suggested that if humans do crack the code to communicate with animals, the first thing they should say to animals is “sorry.”

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