On this grey and gloomy March Monday, let me cheer you up with some fabulous if light-hearted news about an advance in the realm of voice recognition and instant translation. Of great interest to all of us who love translation – and cats.
A former Amazon engineer involved with Alexa claims to have uncovered the secret language of cats, to be precise the language cats use to communicate with us, their humans. You may be aware that cats amongst themselves use other means for communication, growls, hisses, staring, and posturing, but not meows – those are strictly reserved for their humans. Being independent creatures, cats are not terribly interested in what we say to them, though they are keen that we should understand what they are telling us! Most of the time I guess they must be pretty frustrated that we humans just don’t get it.
But this is about to change, says the ex-Amazon engineer, who now works for Akvelon. He’s created an app, MeowTalk, that can, he claims, interpret such vital pieces of information as “Give me food“, “Let me in“, “I’m otherwise engaged“, or “Just leave me alone“. We are told that the app listens to the tone of the cat’s meow, then tells you what your feline is telling you to do, in human word. So no more excuses for not understanding.
As you might expect, this technical advance comes with its complications: cats‘ meows are totally unique, by cat, and tailored specifically to their owner. There can be no talk of a generic database, therefore. Each cat has his/her own meow profile. The idea is that after a certain (not inconsiderable) training time your cat’s vocalizations would be translated instantly through a little device attached to a collar around its neck into a human utterance. Using clever technology and artificial intelligence, no doubt.
As cats have doubled in popularity over the last 12 months of social distancing and spending most of our time at home alone, this app clearly has huge commercial potential. Average rating for the app is currently 4.3 stars, and there are plenty of favourable reviews:
“This is the cutest thing ever”
“I tried it and it works great for my cat”
“That guy is a genius”
Importantly, the app comes with some cautions of this type: “There may be some inaccuracies which could give owners the wrong impression about what their cats are feeling. This could be detrimental to the cat, the owner, and their relationship – for instance, if a cat is purring it doesn’t necessarily mean they are happy and restful. A purr can also be seeking affection or indicating discomfort. In its current form, the app should only be used for entertainment.”
At the time of writing, the app is still in Beta stage, and testing. But apparently it has a huge following and has been downloaded well over 500.000 times.
One thing puzzles me though. As the meows are totally unique to each cat, you, the owner has to TRAIN MeowTalk, just like Alexa. I imagine you keep your phone with you all the time, waiting for one of those meows to be produced and recording it to your app. Then the app offers you a suggestion (for example: “I want food”), and you have a choice of either agreeing that this is the correct interpretation, or not. In the latter case, the app offers you a list of potential other options, from which to choose the one you feel is most appropriate.
In other words: You are telling the app what you think your cat is saying for the purpose of training it, and storing that information for future use. Hang on, if you already know your cat’s language why would you need MeowTalk?
Probably just for a bit of fun, of both the cat and you are bored. I suggest you start by watching the video here:
And, if you are fascinated by the whole thing, why not check out another app, a Human-to-Cat translator, produced by Electric French Fries. This one does an analysis on what you are saying and translates it into meows…
What the users say:
“My cat told me, she had depression issues. She said, she doesn’t understand why she can’t catch the birds on the other side of the window. She also said, the cat food I give her gives her gas. Awesome app!”
“It helps me call my cat because when I play these sounds, I don’t think it works, but it does attract my cat! WARNING: it might make your cat sad due to thinking there is a cat around when there isn’t.”
“Tried it on my cat who only meows on occasion. She immediately meowed back and then started searching the room, I suppose for another cat. Then I said I love you into the recorder several times and she flopped on the ground and purred! But after a bit more of it she went and hid under the bed. I pressed the first cat button which might be a greeting? And she came back out to the sound of it. She spoke more times than she ever has, but I think it can be quite confusing and too much will distress her. So use it only sparingly.”
“Very realistic – When I played the cat mews, I thought they were terrible cat impersonations. When I played them to the cats, they went insane, fighting and running wild around the house!
It is a good app if your cat enjoys the app as my cats believe the mews are real. Unfortunately, mine see it as a threat, so I will be deleting it. Which is a shame, just wished my cats liked it.”
“No joke – my cats have never been so happy. I love this app. The translator works well too. Like, I told my cat to come and sit down and she did! Though it may not work for every cat.”
Let me know how you and your cat are getting on!