Can machine learning help us talk to pets?

Scientists are using machine learning algorithms to analyze communication patterns in animals.

Jetta Productions / Walter Hodges / Getty Images

When Dr. Dolittle premiered in 1998, Eddie Murphy’s character lived the longtime dream of animal lovers everywhere.

Now, more than two decades later, could technology soon make it a reality?

Machine learning algorithms…

… are pretty good at understanding humans, which helped give rise to Alexa, Siri, and other voice assistants.

Scientists are now using the tech to analyze animal communication patterns, per The New York Times.

Some active projects include:

  • Unpacking the dialects of naked mole rats
  • Analyzing the syntax and semantics of sperm whales
  • Deciphering differing tones among Egyptian fruit bats

Diana Reiss, an expert on dolphin communication, likened these projects to building a “Google Translate” for animals.

Studies on animal communication aren’t new…

… but machine learning tools can do things humans can’t — like tell individual animals apart, and differentiate which sounds animals make in specific situations to decode their meaning.

The field is nascent, which means the possibilities are endless. It also means it might be awhile before you can shoot the shit with your Shih Tzu.

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