Prairie dogs’ language decoded by scientists
2013 06 24

CBC News

Human-animal translation devices may be available within 10 years, researcher says


Did that prairie dog just call you fat? Quite possibly. On The Current Friday, biologist Con Slobodchikoff described how he learned to understand what prairie dogs are saying to one another and discovered how eloquent they can be.

Slobodchikoff, a professor emeritus at North Arizona University, told Erica Johnson, guest host of The Current, that he started studying prairie dog language 30 years ago after scientists reported that other ground squirrels had different alarm calls to warn each other of flying predators such as hawks and eagles, versus predators on the ground, such as coyotes or badgers.

Prairie dogs, he said, were ideal animals to study because they are social animals that live in small co-operative groups within a larger colony, or "town" and they never leave their colony or territory, where they have built an elaborate underground complex of tunnels and burrows.

In order to figure out what the prairie dogs were saying, Slobodchikoff and his colleagues trapped them and painted them with fur dye to identify each one. Then they recorded the animals’ calls in the presence of different predators.

They found that the animals make distinctive calls that can distinguish between a wide variety of animals, including coyotes, domestic dogs and humans. The patterns are so distinct, Slobodchikoff said, that human visitors that he brings to a prairie dog colony can typically learn them within two hours.

But then Slobodchikoff noticed that the animals made slightly different calls when different individuals of the same species went by.

"With a sudden intuition, I thought, ’What if they’re describing the physical features of each predator?’" he recalled.

He and his team conducted experiments where they paraded dogs of different colours and sizes and various humans wearing different clothes past the colony. They recorded the prairie dogs’ calls, analyzed them with a computer, and were astonished by the results.

Clothing colour, size described

"They’re able to describe the colour of clothes the humans are wearing, they’re able to describe the size and shape of humans, even, amazingly, whether a human once appeared with a gun," Slobodchikoff said.

The animals can even describe abstract shapes such as circles and triangles.

Also remarkable was the amount of information crammed into a single chirp lasting a 10th of a second.

"In one 10th of a second, they say ’Tall thin human wearing blue shirt walking slowly across the colony.’"

Besides being a researcher, Slobodchikoff is an author of the book Chasing Doctor Doolittle: Learning the Language of Animals, in which he profiles many other animals with complex language, including crows and ravens, chickens and vervet monkeys. He believes complex speech is probably common within the animal kingdom.

"It’s just that we have not looked," he said. He blames the fact that humans have long assumed animals are incapable of such intelligence.

Computer translation

Slobodchikoff said he has been working with a computer scientist to develop a device that uses voice pattern recognition techniques and artificial intelligence to translate between human and animal speech.

"We could potentially have something maybe the size of a cellphone in five to 10 years where a dog would say, ’Woof’ and the device would say. ’I want to eat chicken tonight" or a cat could say, ’Meow,’ and the device would say, ’My litterbox is filthy, please clean it.’"

[...]

Read the full article at: cbc.ca







Wild Kingdom- Prairie Dog Language w/ Con Slobodchikoff (2013)





Related Articles
Dolphins Call Each Other By Name
Scientists say dolphins should be treated as ’non-human persons’
Do Animals Tell Stories?
Animals Are Moral Creatures, Scientist Argues
Scientists Finally Conclude Nonhuman Animals Are Conscious Beings
The Ethics of Boosting Animals from Sentience to Self-Aware Consciousness
Can Crows Read?
6 Terrifying Ways Crows Are Way Smarter Than You Think
Crowboarding: Russian roof-surfin’ bird caught on tape


Latest News from our Front Page

Norway Joins the Race to Develop Killer Robots
2014 10 24
Norway is a large exporter of weapons, which makes the resolution of the debate about creating killer robots an important issue for everyone.  One could debate the overall merits or failings of robotic systems, but an area that clearly has become a point for concern on all sides is the emergence of "killer robots." According to robotics pioneer, David Hanson, ...
Gene That Once Aided Survival in the Arctic Found to Have Negative Impact on Health Today
2014 10 23
In individuals living in the Arctic, researchers have discovered a gene variant that arose thousands of years ago and most likely provided an evolutionary advantage for processing high-fat diets or for surviving in a cold environment; however, the variant also seems to increase the risk of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, and infant mortality in today’s northern populations. {snip} “Our work ...
The Ebola hoax: questions, answers, and the false belief in the “One It”
2014 10 23
“The Reality Manufacturing Company doesn’t just sell ‘fake paintings’ that are easy to spot. No. They also sell images that are geared to mesh with people’s deeply held instincts and thereby produce rigid false beliefs. People are sure that if they gave up such beliefs, their world would fall apart and blow away in the wind.” ...
New Controversial Theory Suggests "Hobbits" Were Not Human - Who Were These Mysterious Beings?
2014 10 23
The origin of the Hobbit species remains a challenging subject to scientists. The Hobbit’s discovery confirmed the view that the Earth was once populated by many species of human, but new research the Hobbit’s were not human at all! So, who were these mysterious beings? Where did they come from? The idea that our species, Homo sapiens, was the only species of human on ...
Right into enemy hands? ISIS shows off new weapons allegedly airdropped by US (VIDEO)
2014 10 23
Islamic State has published a new video in which a jihadist shows off brand-new American hardware, which was purportedly intended for the Kurds they are fighting in the Syrian border town of Kobani. The undated video, posted by the unofficial IS mouthpiece “a3maq news”, sees a jihadist showing several boxes of munitions with English-language markings, with a parachute spread out on ...
More News »