Actors know that they will never become the audience’s favorite character if they are on stage or in front of the camera with children or animals. One becomes an extra. There is something about showing our sympathy to children and animals. This is also evident in films set in the countryside. Blooming landscapes with happy animals are depicted. The British TV series All Creatures Great and Small, filmed between 1977 and 1990 and humorously depicting the lives of veterinarians and the people of the Yorkshire Dales, or the 1995 film Babe, in which a talking pig on a farm in Australia became the main character and audience favorite, were such films knitted to a tried and tested pattern.
However, this glorified view of rural life does not do justice to the reality of many farm animals. Even though more and more laws and rules are being enacted to give these animals a humane life by mandating free-range or larger cages and stalls, we humans are far from understanding whether this makes the animals happy.
Yes, it’s about animal happiness. And also the efforts of humans to better understand it. And that’s where artificial intelligence surprisingly comes into play. Yes, the very one that, according to the skeptics, will enslave us or outright kill us. At the University of Copenhagen, researchers have developed an AI-based system that can tell if pigs are happy or over-tempered based on their grunts and squeals.
A neural network was fed with a data set of 7,414 sounds. These audio files came from 19 different situations recorded from pigs eating, fighting among themselves, running, or on their way to the slaughterhouse. The sounds were then rated by animal behavior experts. Sounds of a pig eating or reuniting with its own family were categorized as positive, while those of fighting or on the way to the slaughterhouse were categorized as negative.
The result: the AI system was able to recognize the mood of the pigs with 91.5 percent accuracy and the respective situation with 91.5 percent accuracy. With this system, the researchers want to give farmers a tool that allows them to better respond to the needs of the animals.
Such a system can also be applied to other domains. Zoundream, a company operating in Basel and Barcelona, is working on a sentiment analysis of baby sounds. Cries and crying are to be interpreted accordingly so that parents can understand whether the baby is feeling hungry, is in pain or has flatulence, or simply wants to be taken in the arms.
Maybe one day, thanks to AI, we’ll get to the point where we can talk to animals and babies. And maybe they’ll tell us they don’t want to be in our movies anymore. Until then: Oink Oink!