Have you ever wanted to have a heart to heart with your dog or just wondered what the pooch is barking about? Soon, maybe, thanks to the miracle of algorithms, you could be having that conversation. And when you do, you can thank Dr. Con Slobodchikoff, professor emeritus of biology at Northern Arizona University, who has made a lifelong study of prairie dog communication. In order to understand their complex vocalizations, which vary to warn other prairie dogs of different types of predators, Slobodchikoff developed an algorithm that can translate prairie dog chirps into English. Now his company Zoolingua is developing technology that will translate not only sounds but also facial expressions and body movements of all sorts of animals. This is interesting and we wish Slobodchikoff the best. We also recall a Japanese cat translator that popped up on the market around Christmas time a few years ago. It comes with the Brooklyn Bridge as a bonus.
While you’re waiting for the Zoolingua device to be available on Amazon, one non-pet translator that’s already in operation is artist Nina Katchadourian’s talking popcorn. Custom software translates the sounds of corn popping based on the “language,” or patterns, of Morse Code. A computer-generated voice provides a simultaneous spoken translation. The only shortcoming is that you can’t talk back to the popcorn; you can only listen to what it has to say.