Dr. Dolittle’s special power may soon become a reality for some.
After various experiments by experts around the world attempting to understand animals, one team from Tel Aviv University is realizing every pet owner’s dream.
The students in Israel used ultrasonic frequency detectors to essentially “translate” the noises bats make.
The discovery, according to Dr. Yossi Yovel, is “like a miracle, like magic.”
He explained to BBC Radio 4 that bats’ echolocation — the mixed-frequency signals they emit to “see” — can also be used to “convey social information.”
“There’s lots of literature on bats eavesdropping, listening to what the other bats are saying,” he said. And, with the help of artificial intelligence technology, he said, people can begin listening to what other animals are saying, too.
“Machine learning can revolutionize our understanding of animal communication,” he said.
His team recorded bats over several months, tracking when the nocturnal creatures emitted sounds.
“We showed that we can determine the context of the vocalization based on its spectral parameters,” he said. “So we can say this vocalization was emitted during fighting over food for example, with very high accuracy.”
But he owes the discoveries all to advanced technology.
“To listen to these different interactions, the truth is that it’s very difficult to hear differences between them,” he explained. “But once you use these machine learning algorithms, we manage to find differences between them.”
Other researchers have begun similar experiments, like cognitive scientist Natalie Uomini, who is studying the New Caledonian crow on a Pacific island with the goal to understand what the birds are saying to each other.
“We’re not sure yet what makes a call individual, and this is what machine learning will be able to tell us,” she said of the feathered creatures, which communicate through quacking noises and movements. “Whatever the individual features are in the voice they’re probably similar to how humans can tell each-other apart.”
Diana Reiss, aa dolphin cognition and communication research scientist and professor of psychology at Hunter College, is studying dolphins by using her team’s creation: a machine like a keyboard to interact with sea animals.
“We hope this technologically-sophisticated touchscreen will be enriching for the dolphins and also enrich our science by opening a window into the dolphin mind,” Reiss said in the college’s press release regarding the technology. “Giving dolphins increased choice and control allows them to show us reflections of their way of thinking and may help us decode their vocal communication.”
But she isn’t the only one who’s discovered just how clever dolphins are.
Linda Erb, from the Dolphin Research Center in Florida, had an amazing first-hand experience with a dolphin named Theresa, who used echolocation on Erb’s abdomen, alerting her she was pregnant.
Developing technology, then, to understand and communicate with intelligent wildlife could give hope for pet owners begging to know what their furry friends are thinking.
More domestic animal research has been conducted to see just how much our precious pups understand us. A 2020 study by researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary discovered that, while dogs may not pick up minute details in human speech, they can, in fact, understand their owners’ most basic words.
Meanwhile, we can understand Fido’s barks, behaviors and movements – albeit with the help of a trainer. The same goes for felines, who can understand words and even the faces and names of other cats.