Wouldn’t it be great to know what your pet is thinking?
What is going on behind those whiskers? Does your dog’s wagging tail mean they are happy? How can we understand or interpret the emotions of our pets?
Well, perhaps technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help.
Watch: Dogs can tell you're upset, and they want to help! Post continues below.
The idea of using AI to understand our pets was kicked around during Splendour in the Grass 2019, an annual music festival in Byron Bay in the science tent, where all things computing were discussed and, in particular, using AI for ‘good’.
The festival ended with a challenge. Could we create a pet emotion assessor by the time Splendour 2020 took place? While Splendour has been postponed due to COVID-19, the Happy Pets app we’ve developed as a result of that challenge is now ready.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FACIAL EXPRESSIONS
What might have sounded far-fetched at first, actually raised some serious scientific questions.
Facial recognition for humans has become a mainstream and sometimes controversial technology – we use it to unlock our mobile phones and airports are using it increasingly as part of their security.
Human faces tell us a lot about what someone is feeling or thinking – so, could the same facial recognition technology be used to interpret the emotions of animals?
Before we talk about the technology, let’s look at what we know about facial expressions. Psychologists and anthropologists tell us that they are one of the most important aspects of human communication.
The face is responsible for communicating not only thoughts or ideas, but also emotions.
What researchers have discovered, and which is key to the success of our app, is that some emotions (like happiness, fear or surprise) seem to have biologically ‘hard-wired’ human expressions that hold through across ethnicities and societies.
So our expressions aren’t a result of cultural learning, but related to Darwinian evolution.
But what about animals? And can machines – or apps – check this?
From a technical perspective, there are two key steps.
First is classifying the specific types of animals we’re talking about – in this case, pets. Secondly, we then needed to identify the key features and patterns that represent the underlying emotions. And AI can help us achieve this.