Anyone who thinks that artificial intelligence is only for humans is wrong. There is also a lot of animal testing. Although there are dangers involved. “Developments are going so fast that the ethical side is covered in snow.”

From devices that recognize a dog’s nose print to apps that translate cat meows, artificial intelligence (AI) in animals hasn’t gone very far yet. But that will change soon, experts hope. It is hoped that even communication with animals is possible.

Ask questions about pets

“15 years from now you might be asking your cat or dog, ‘How do you like life with me?'” co-founder Maarten Reesink of the Center for Animal-Human Studies calls the most promising app he thinks is yet to come.

The researcher from the University of Amsterdam is based on the great advances that are taking place in this field. It’s not “an automatic feeder or some random commercial application that interprets meows,” says Reesink. “This goes much deeper.”

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This could mean artificial intelligence for animals.

There are roughly three ways that AI can be used on animals. For example, smart devices and machine learning programs can already detect subtle physical differences in animals to help diagnose disease. This also happens preemptively, just as it happens with humans.

Smart devices can also be used with a specific function in the home, such as recognition apps for pets to open a hatch. The programs can also help to better understand the emotions and language of animals. Much progress is being made in that area, but the consequences are still incalculable, experts warn.

Google translate for animals.

Reesink points to an extensive study by Canadian digital transformation professor Karen Bakker. She collected more than 1,000 scientific studies on AI applications in animals, she explains. “And I came to an overwhelming conclusion: in the not too distant future there will be a kind of Google Translate available that translates the language of animals.”

“Let this sink in: this really makes communication with your pet possible. You can ask your dog or cat what’s going on inside them through a program. That’s not music from the future, this is yet to come. To get answers exactly”.

‘Can be abused’

Such applications can have many consequences for animal welfare, he says. “Think of cows or pigs in the factory farming industry. Those animals can provide direct information to supervisors about the situation in the barn.”

That is the positive side of the story. “Though the technology can also be misused, for example when poachers or illegal fishermen imitate a lure,” says Reesink.

facial recognition in horses

It is these types of dangers of AI in animals that are still not emphasized enough, says professor of animal behavior Saskia Arndt from Utrecht University. The university is one of the places in the Netherlands where the use of artificial intelligence in animals is currently being investigated.

For example, a study is being carried out in Utrecht to assess whether horses feel pain through facial recognition. Arndt and his colleagues want to use similar technology to recognize pain in dogs and cats more quickly. The professor sees that AI offers many opportunities to improve animal welfare.

‘listening’ to animals

He mentions several practical examples: “Think of a feeder that warns of diseases when eating habits change. Or a vacuum cleaner that recognizes when your pet has defecated and cleans it. There is a large market for this type of device.”

“With AI we can ‘listen’ to behavior to find out what needs the animals have. We can then use that, for example, by arranging housing in such a way that it meets the needs.” This could also be done with a chatbot that allows you to ask specific questions about animals.

“Very little attention to ethics”

Although Arndt has serious doubts about whether humans will finally be able to have ‘real conversations’ with animals. “That would require, among other things, that we have the same reflective capacity and that we understand each other at this level,” says the professor.

“It’s fantastic what’s being developed. There’s a lot of potential, the enthusiasm is great. And rightly so, although we’re not there yet. Developments in this area are going so fast that ethical issues aren’t addressed enough,” she says. .

Negative side

Because technology can also store another negative side, warns Arndt. She talks about a robot that was recently developed at a German university and can imitate a bee’s dance. Through such a communicative dance, a royal bee leads its mates to a food source.

“That robot can now do that as well and thus make the bees fly in a certain direction. That is a very exciting development in a scientific sense. But this is an example of how we could use technology to manipulate animals and their behavior.” Researchers are also beginning to understand communication in other animals.

1984 by George Orwell

As a society, we need to talk about the goals for which such technologies are ethically responsible, says the professor. “Sometimes I think about history 1984 by the writer George Orwell, in which systems gain complete control over a society. We’ve all come to the conclusion that we don’t want that in people.”

“Now that’s happening a bit with animals. With technology we’re expanding our control and control more and more than is already the case.” And that can go wrong if we lose our role in it, says Arndt.

‘Otherwise it will be too late’

“Look at the robot communicating with the bees. Is this how we want to interact with animals and use technology?” It’s a question we need to answer quickly, Arndt says, given the speed at which applications are being developed in this area. “Otherwise, it’s too late.”

She herself has a proposal. “Artificial intelligence is a wonderful opportunity and it can mean a lot, even for animals. But that doesn’t mean we have to give up our own responsibility. There should always be someone behind AI applications who makes the final decisions about animals, although there is still much to be investigated in that area.”