Cats
cats meows

(Photo Credit: Toshiro Shimada via Getty)

Cats are incredibly expressive, using everything from a purr to the crook of a tail to convey desires and emotions. Many are even quite chatty. Even the most intuitive pet parents might find it hard to comprehend what their feline friend is trying to convey. A new app, MeowTalk, might help.

The Secret Language of Cats

Javier Sanchez, an engineer who worked on Amazon’s Alexa, used technology similar to Alexa’s to develop a tool that translates a cat’s meows into human words.

“We’re trying to understand what cats are saying and give them a voice,” Sanchez told The New York Times. “We want to use this to help people build better and stronger relationships with their cats,” he continued.

Sanchez said he was inspired by NPR’s series “The Secret Language of Cats.” Through the series, he learned cats develop their own vocabulary, which they use solely to communicate with humans. Cats in the wild, Sanchez told King 5 News, don’t meow at one another. But domesticated felines will undoubtedly tell their human when they’re ready for breakfast.

MeowTalk is the latest in an age-old effort to understand animal speak. Most pet parents — if they’re honest — talk to their fur babies as if they were children. And scientists have taken it further, teaching sign language to apes and English to dolphins. Even laypeople have accomplished impressive feats in animal-human communications. Bunny the Sheepadoodle, for example, knows how to tell his parents what he needs by pressing buttons to play prerecorded messages.

Helping People and Cats Connect

The app uses a machine-learning system, which extracts patterns from large data sets, The Times reports. Scientists have used similar technology in the lab to distinguish between rats’ squeaks of happiness or distress.

MeowTalk categorizes meows into nine basic needs, like “I’m hungry” or “I’m happy.” Users can also train it to understand specific cats’ lingo by creating a profile and assigning labels to their cats’ meows based on their interpretation. The app learns the new sound, then predicts what the cat is saying the next time it hears that tone.

According to a report from the founders, the app accurately categorizes meows about 90 percent of the time, though many of the “translations” are presented creatively.

MeowTalk may not be “pure science,” as one expert consultant put it. But it could be valuable — or at least fun — nonetheless.

“A tool like this can help certain people bond even more with their cats, especially if they can’t be in contact with other people on a regular basis. So, this could be a real game changer for a key demographic that have cats,” Sanchez told Geek Wire.

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