Use AI to talk to your pet cat

Yep! Apparently it'll happen soon

We’ll be honest — we’re dog people over at Subscribe to AI. But we’re prepared to set our differences aside and write this week’s story with half the sass of your average pet cat. And it’s an interesting story about human’s second best friend, cats!

While there are plenty of stories online about robotic AI pets potentially replacing animal pets in the future, this story is about the real-life kind of pet cat. It answers the age-old question, answered by plenty of family films: what would animals say if they could talk?

If you were on the internet last week, you might have seen someone share the results of a new study: cats have 276 facial expressions. The study is more specific than you might imagine from the headline; these 276 facial expressions are strictly the ones cats use when interacting with other cats.

How and where did they study this? At the cat cafe, of course.

The principal investigators spent 150 hours at a cat cafe in Los Angeles, where the cats hoped to be adopted by the patrons. They recorded 194 minutes of cat interactions and used a coding system to note the facial expressions.

The results revealed 26 unique muscle movements, including those eyes, ears, and lips. When combined in different variations, researchers found 276 total facial expressions. Most were considered friendly, not aggressive.

So, if your pet cat is already communicating with the neighbour’s cat with a variety of facial expressions, couldn’t they communicate with us, too?

Scientists and cat lovers seem to believe we’re making significant progress. The first challenge is understanding the true meaning of all cat expressions. Daniel Mills, the professor behind the original study, believes artificial intelligence could help us make sense of the many cat faces.

“As this paper suggests, there is a much greater richness in cat expressions than we appreciate, and what AI is good at is classifying images.”

Mills wants to teach AI to identify the specific details of each expression or even allow an AI model to devise its own rules for classification.

“It could highlight the rules it uses to distinguish data sets, which can show us where to look for the best way to distinguish certain expressions.”

So it’s possible that someday you’ll know exactly what your cat thinks about its dinner and perhaps even what your cat thinks about you!

Hold up; not so fast — cats don’t use as many facial expressions when interacting with humans.

“The facial expressions they produce towards humans look different from those made towards cats,” said Dr Brittany Florkiezicz, the study's co-author.

Okay — so you’ll get to know what your cat tells other cats about you, then (maybe they’ll be more honest that way). And who knows — perhaps when cats figure out we can know precisely what they’re communicating with AI, they’ll stop being so lazy when they share with us.

Mills is already using AI to learn the emotional states of cats, dogs, and horses. But his goals are more significant than simply knowing what cats think of their owners. Mills says AI could help drastically when it comes to animal welfare.

Cows, for example, could receive a daily AI health check. A camera could be placed to view the cow's face, and based on the facial expressions alone, the farmer could check in on the cow's mood in general as well as during the milking process.

“In effect, they can have a daily health check of how happy they are,” he said.

There you have it. If you have a dog, a cat, a horse or a pet cow, you might one day be able to use AI to FaceTime them and have a nice chat.

At the rate things are moving with AI — it’s pretty reasonable to suggest you can use an app to snap pics of your pets and understand their facial expressions in the next few years.

You better start being extra friendly to your pets so that when the day comes, their first words can be “I love you” and not “buy better cat food.”

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