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Language — or rather text — played a key role in the recent high-profile departure of the president of Harvard University, Claudine Gay. The simple story is that Gay was found to have plagiarised other scholars’ work on multiple… Read More
As the saying goes, every dog has its day, and it would appear that day is imminent for hundreds of privileged pooches around the globe. From what could be as soon as this April onwards, canine lovers will be able to get their hands on the very first dog-to-English translation device to use on their furry companion, thanks to the Scandinavian innovators of the NSID, the Nordic Society for Invention and Discovery.
Having raised well over their $10,000 goal through crowd funding site Indiegogo to aid in the development of this ambitious project (their campaign is currently sitting very pretty with a comfortable 19,903 US dollars’ worth of donations in the kitty), one thing is clear on the canine scene: people are very excited about hearing what their dogs have to say. However, it is worth mentioning that any owners with secret fantasies of transforming their pup into the world’s next Brian from Family Guy, or even the less verbose Clifford the Big Red, may be somewhat disappointed for now. The current level of dog-to-English translation is not quite up there yet. NSID have stressed that the first version of their ‘No More Woof!’ translation device will be undeniably rudimentary, capable of translating only basic animal thought patterns, such as fatigue (‘I’m tired’), excitement (‘I’m excited’), as well as curiosity (‘Who ARE you?’). Highfalutin legal translation this isn’t.
Nevertheless, this project marks a groundbreaking step in the field of canine research, as the technology the researchers are in the process of testing out on their guinea pig doggies (which happen to be their own beloved pets) had only ever been used prior to now in the context of discovering more about the mapping of the human brain, and never before on that of man’s best friend. The revolutionary device spearheading this experiment is the Raspberry PI, a new brain-computer interface (BCI) which is able to directly detect, analyse, and translate the brainwaves of dogs into thoughts that are comprehensible by humans. At the moment, the Nordic team are focusing on rendering canine neuro-electrical signals purely into basic English phrases, but their linguistic ambitions are high, with plans to release French, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese translations in the near future.
Although the hype for ‘No More Woof!’ is apparent among linguists and dog lovers alike, it will be interesting to see how it fares upon its release. As is nearly always the case with the latest revolutionary technologies to grace the market, it will inevitably fall foul to some degree of criticism, and maybe not all of a light-hearted nature (‘Why does your dog work in a call centre?’).
Whilst the sceptical amongst us may simply dismiss the tool as a gadget worthy of no more than a comfortable run in the gimmicky section of the Argos catalogue, and a dusty future under the stairs, others could go as far as to view the product as a worrying development which serves to emphasise the intrusive nature of our current society. After all, it is important to recognise that it is not the dog’s woofs that ‘No More Woof!’ is promising to translate, but rather his actual thoughts. This poses the question not only as to whether what a dog ‘says’ and what he thinks is one and the same, but also whether we have the right to encroach upon what could be deemed as, essentially, a dog’s right to privacy. Contrary to what the Facebook and Twitter accounts of both celebs and normallos in their thousands may lead us to believe, not everybody wants to have their thoughts broadcast to the world, and that probably applies to dogs too.
Yet for now, with the current prototype at its most basic, perhaps we are jumping the gun a little. Casting a potential canine version of Orwell’s 1984 to one side, I think that dogs will most likely welcome the technology, especially if it means they can tell their human that they’re hungry, or in pain, or want to go for a walk. Getting them to wear the clunky headgear though might be another matter entirely. In other words, don’t quite hold your breath that this dog-to-English translation tool will hit the mainstream any time soon!
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