These Technologies Can Help Us Understand Animals Better

Researchers at the University of Michigan have worked with Mexico’s National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics to launch an AI tool that interprets dog barks. This technology cleverly tells apart aggressive from playful barks and even assesses the dog’s breed, age, and sex.

How Effective Is The AI?

This AI model adapts techniques used for human speech recognition to analyse dog barks. Artem Abzaliev, a doctoral student at the University, explained, “We adapted human speech processing models to understand the context and emotions behind dog barks.”

The AI evaluates the sounds to understand various emotional states or needs the dog may be expressing.

What Insights Has The AI Revealed?

These are a few important insights from the AI analysis:

  • Context Precision: It pinpoints the reasons behind a bark, such as joy or distress.
  • Identifying Features: It recognises specific characteristics tied to different breeds or ages.
  • Behaviour Prediction: It forecasts potential behaviors based on the bark’s sound.

These advances help deepen our understanding of canine communication.

What Other Studies Are Learning Animals?

So, dog barks are not where the tech and studies end because the field of animal communication is expanding dramatically. Researchers worldwide are diving into the complex languages of various species, aiming to unravel how these creatures share information amongst themselves using innovative technologies.

For instance, Karen Bakker, a professor at the University of British Columbia, delves into “digital bioacoustics,” exploring how animals and even plants communicate. In her book, The Sounds of Life, she explains how advanced sensors and AI are used to decode the intricate ways non-human species transmit information.

“We’re not just looking at whether they can mimic human speech but rather how they naturally converse and share vital information within their environments,” Bakker explains.

The New Caledonian Crow, studied by Christian Rutz from the University of St Andrews, is another fascinating subject. These birds are known for their tool-making prowess, often creating hooks from branches to fish out grubs.

Rutz’s work highlights how these crows use tools but they also have distinct vocalisations that might vary by region, possibly affecting how they pass on tool-making skills.


How Are These Studies Changing Our View Of Nature?

The integration of AI in wildlife research is allowing scientists to analyse and understand animal behaviours that were once completely foreign to us. Shane Gero’s research with sperm whales showcases this shift. By recording and analysing whale vocalisations, Gero’s team uses AI to decipher the complex “codas” or sound patterns that whales use to identify each other, much like human names.

“The whales have a sophisticated system of communication that resembles human language in complexity,” says Gero. His enthusiasm is palpable when he discusses the potential of AI to break down these acoustic signals, offering us a glimpse into the social structures of whale pods.

This new perspective compels us to reconsider our place in the natural world. As Aza Raskin of the Earth Species Project points out, “This technology doesn’t just translate animal sounds; it shifts our anthropocentric viewpoint to one where we see animals as fellow beings with rich internal lives and complex societies.”

What Does This Mean For The Future?

We’ve covered the academic interest and curiosity towards understanding animals, but lets take it a step further and look at why else these studies are great:

  • Conservation efforts can become more targeted, using communication patterns to better understand species’ needs and threats.
  • Improved animal welfare protocols can be developed by accurately interpreting the needs and distress signals of domestic and wild animals.
  • Legal protections could evolve to recognise certain species’ complex social structures and communication abilities, advocating for their rights on a new level.