I meet plenty of people who talk to their pets. “Do you need to go out?” “Are you hungry?” I admit I sometimes talk to my cat, but I tend not to ask her such mundane questions. Instead, I’ll ask her what she did with her day (as though she might have done something other than sleep in the sunny spot on the floor) or whether she feels fulfilled as a creature, which she often answers by diving face-first into catnip. Still, there are times when I’d love to know what she’s thinking (or seeing), even though I know that if anything’s going on in her brain, it’s probably something about as deep as “fire bad, tree pretty.” Now, a Scandinavian research lab is busy devising a way to translate a dog’s sounds and body movement into human language. I mean, why stop at Google Glass for dogs?
The Nordic Society for Invention and Discovery (NSID), which awesomely claims to be “the antidote to digital Darwinism” and has developed products such as an iPad-charging rocking chair and a lamp that follows people around, certainly doesn’t lack creativity. One of their current projects is No More Woof, for which they’re raising money on Indiegogo.
Dogs wearing No More Woof look like they’re wearing a Bluetooth headset and the horn of a phonograph. The device uses electroencephalography (EEG), a brain-computer interface, and a micro-computer powered by Raspberry Pi to translate a dog’s thoughts into human language (English only, for now — Mandarin, French, and Spanish are apparently in the works), and then to broadcast those thoughts. NSID does recognize that, in translating thoughts to language, they’re ascribing more thinking than may actually be occurring (a dog may not think it’s hot, even if it feels hot). In this way, the device inevitably will contribute to the further anthropomorphizing of dogs.
NSID stresses that the first prototype will be rudimentary, but that the design will improve over time. In a “warning” on their site, they state that No More Woof is a “WORK IN PROGRESS” and that they’re “very far from a mass-producable product.” But the more you contribute, the better they can make this device and the more thought they can put into details such as how a dog could possibly wear a loudspeaker comfortably (and without dying of embarrassment — there’s that anthropomorphizing at work!)
NSID has detected common canine brain patterns that translate into thoughts and feelings such as “I’m tired,” “I’m hungry,” and “I need to pee.” Well, sure, but do we really need to give our dogs headgear to know that? If this device actually works, wouldn’t it be more useful in a Dog Whisperer type situation? Sometimes animals are traumatized — maybe a previous owner was an asshole, or maybe the other dogs at the dog park were teasing it, or maybe it’s mad that it got locked in the mudroom for devouring a shoe. If the device can pick up those kinds of thoughts, then that would be interesting.
“By supporting No More Woof you support pioneering research to enable different species to communicate with one another,” according to NSID. Gorillas and kittens can communicate without it, no? Anyway, say that through No More Woof one was able to realize that the dog hates the new dog food. Fine, easy, just buy another brand. But what if the sentiment is more complicated, such as, “I hate your new boyfriend why is he over all the time he looks at me funny and you don’t pet me when he’s around why don’t you love me anymore?” Aside from giving the dog some extra love, what’s the next step? To sit the dog down and say, “Look, Rover, I love you and my boyfriend…” If NSID really wants to lead the “humans-dog-communication movement,” it should devise a device that translates human thoughts into dog language. Now that would be interesting.