Meow Talk – your mobile phone tells you what your cat is saying

This sounds really good and it is certainly interesting. A mobile phone which can translate your cat’s meows and other sounds (perhaps) with a bit of training by the owner. You download the mobile app, Meow Talk, from Google Play and Bob’s your uncle you’ve got a translator for cat language. It sounds a bit like Dr Doolittle having a conversation with animals but I really think you that it’s not that great and I’m sorry to be negative. I have thought about it quite carefully.

Meow Talk

Meow Talk. Image: the business.

The idea and the software is by a business called Akvelon Inc. and the man behind it is a former Amazon, Alexa engineer, Javier Sanchez. The developers say that you should train the artificial intelligence software by recording your cat’s sounds when you know that he or she is asking for specific things like food or to go outside. If you do this several times then the AI software will learn from that and 24-hours later be able to recognise your cat’s sounds and meow.

It is rather limited in that the software can detect and translate nine general “cat intents” which I presume the software company means nine desires or requests from your cat. They list them as follows:

– Happy/Content
– Defense
– Angry
– Attack
– Mother Call
– Mating Call
– In Pain
– Resting
– Hunting

The reviews are good at over 4 out of 5 from more than 30,000 reviews. That is certainly better than good. However, personally I don’t need this software because I know what my cat is saying. You learn what your cat is saying through their vocalisations over time and through experience. In fact a person can be far more nuanced in how they interpret their cat’s desires through their vocalisations. No matter how sophisticated artificial intelligence software is on a smartphone it is not going to beat the brain of a human combined with experience.

However, there will be novice cat owners who may benefit from Meow Talk. Perhaps it is targeted at them. Some scientists are sceptical about the ability of the software. One such person is Chris Mitchell, the founder of Audio Analytic. He said: “Knowing if a dog is distressed from the frequency and mix of sounds, that’s straying into possibility. But telling from a single bark if your dog is hungry or angry? That’s straying into problems.”

And Arik Kershenbaum, a lecturer at the University of Cambridge said: “This is the mistake that a lot of people make when thinking we can translate animal language. They don’t even have a concept of meaning as we have”. I believe that Sanchez knows this but he is confident that his software can benefit people and animals.

One commenter on the Google play website said:

It really does seem to work. When they want food, their meows are translated as “love me”, and when they’re getting food it’s “mommy”. It does seem to get it wrong sometimes, like randomly saying “something hurts” in the middle of repeating “mommy” over and over again. But good overall, I hope it gets developed more.

A bit tepid if I may say so. But I’m not going to criticise it because, as I said, I think it has benefits and it’s a beginning. One possible negative is that if this sort of AI software became highly sophisticated then it would take away the learning process from the human being. And it is good for a human to learn what their cat says. Because they can understand more than just what they’re saying. They will have to observe their moods, their behaviour patterns, their routines and their body language in order to interpret their vocalisations. If you take that broader interaction away from people they’ve lost something.