Do animals understand the meaning of anything?

Thanks to modern technology: will we soon be able to talk to our animals?

It sounds like a dream: at some point, to be able to talk to animals the same way as to people. The bitch Stella can, for example, communicate with her mistress by pressing buttons and playing the words. What's behind it? And what can artificial intelligence (AI) do?

Imagine this scenario: your cat meows or your dog barks. You record it with your smartphone, which translates the sounds of your animal for you in a fraction of a second. You could then answer - and an algorithm would spit out the appropriate barking or meowing.

So you could talk to your animal without having to ask yourself what this barking or meowing stands for ...

Now listen to the podcast on the topic:

Actually, not a particularly absurd idea if such technologies already exist for the different human languages. Then why not also for communication between humans and animals?

Artificial intelligence could help communicate with animals

In any case, two authors of the US magazine “Wired” predict that artificial intelligence could be capable of this as early as this year. At least for large mammals like whales, which also communicate with each other in a word-like structure. AI can already decipher languages ​​with the help of multidimensional maps of meaning. It is easy to imagine that this can also be transferred to animal communication.

But there are also voices that speak against this vision. The magazine “Inquire” writes, for example, that many animals communicate not only with sounds, but mainly with looks, facial expressions and body language.

This could not be recorded by technical devices, but the animals would get along well with each other, explains Kurt Hammerschmidt in the current episode of the DeineTierwelt podcast "Pet-Talks: Klartext". “You can express yourself, communicate, that's not the problem at all. But they do it in a different way, ”says the researcher in cognitive ethnology at the German Primate Center.

The big difference is that people can learn new sounds, words and intonations in the course of their lives. "The dog has a fixed, innate inventory of sounds," says Hammerschmidt. "With this, too, he can express a certain variation in emotions, but he cannot create anything new."

Most mammals can express something with sounds, but they cannot form words or sentences that have semantic content.

Dogs learn the meaning of sounds, not words

You therefore do not associate a specific word with an object or an action, but only a sound. This also allows them to understand which toys to bring when there are several to choose from. You associate an object with a certain sound, but have no understanding of the word itself. “You learn very sensitively what that means and behave accordingly,” explains Hammerschmidt.

This could also explain the following phenomenon: Speech therapist Christina Hunger taught her dog Stella to communicate with words. To do this, the bitch presses various buttons that play the recorded words. Basically, Stella just learned that she gets different rewards for pushing different buttons.

“That has no more to do with speaking than when I teach the animal something else to do,” says Hammerschmidt. The “speaking” Stella can therefore be compared to any dog ​​that has simply learned the commands to sit down and sit down.

More on the topic in our podcast

According to the researcher, dogs will never be able to really speak like humans. The biological explanation for this and why some animals can still communicate well can be found in the current episode of "Pet Talks: Klartext":

You can also listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Deezer.