A new cat translator app called Meowtalk has been creating a lot of excitement in the press recently. The Android app claims to help you understand what your cat is trying to say to you. Top cat apps are nothing new, but this one was developed by Javier Sanchez, a former Amazon engineer who worked on voice recognition device Alexa. The Meowtalk app actually analyses cat sounds to see if it can work out the meaning behind them.
Strangely, meows are mostly a human-cat interaction rather than one used between cats themselves. As Sanchez explained to KING5: "It's not a language. They don’t share words or communicate with each other. Cats never meow at each other out in nature."
He means adult cats: Kittens do, to let their mothers know they are hungry or cold, but they stop doing that once they get older. They certainly meow at people though – presumably because they’ve worked out that it gets their owners to do what they want and stroke or feed them!
If this is the case, it makes sense for us to try to work out exactly what they are trying to get us to do, so we downloaded the Meowtalk app to try it out on a particularly vocal cat called Pirate, to see if it could help us work out what she was saying.
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Testing the Meowtalk app
Of course, cats don’t play ball with technology, and it was quite hard to capture the 5 to 10 sounds required for the app to train itself to translate further sounds. Pirate was having a fun old time yowling and meowing as she does most mornings, that is, until the moment the phone was presented to her to record the sounds. Cue stony silence and a puzzled look.
As she got used to having a phone thrust towards her every time she made a noise, her want for food or attention overtook her discomfort and we could capture the sounds needed. As each one is recorded, the app suggests a translation, and you can tell the app whether you think it has captured what she meant, or choose from a dropdown of other suggestions.
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There are 12 translations to choose from (as well as ‘Unknown’ and ‘Other’). They include likely meanings such as ‘Feed me!’, ‘Let me out’, I’m in pain’ and ‘Hello’, but the default translation, at least in our experience, is the rather pleasing ‘I’m in love’. Once you’ve trained the app it gets better at matching the sounds to previously vetted examples. Of course, this means you are adding what you think the sounds mean to the app, so could be skewing the results. To counter that, the app is also building a database of cat sounds from other users and their suggested meanings, suggesting it should grow more accurate over time.
Here’s an example of one of the sounds we captured from Pirate which the app suggested meant ‘I’m in love’. See if you agree with the translation Meowtalk provided:
Whether you agree or not, it’s a fun app, and it does have its uses. As Sanchez told KING5, “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.” Another potential use is you could give it to cat carers so they could use it to translate your cat’s cries while they are looking after them so they at least know what you think your cat is saying.
It’s certainly a fun step along the way to communicating with our feline friends, and with over 100,000 downloads of the app already, that database of cat sounds is just going to grow – who knows what can be done with that data in the future?
If you have an Android phone, you can download the app to try on the feline friends in your life here: MeowTalk Beta
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