The Future Of (2022) s01e01 Episode Script


[lively piano music plays.]

[Jurnee Smollett.]

Here's a familiar routine.

You come home from work and yell
[female voice.]
I'm home.

Where's my good girl? [laughs.]

[dog barks.]

And here she comes,
wiggling, barking, jumping, and licking.

But what do all those barks
and wiggles actually mean?
Who's a good doggie?
In the future,
you might finally understand
what's going on in your dog's mind.


Because she'll tell you.

[beeping continues.]

The tools to understand our dogs
are coming,
and they're going to give us
a whole new window
into the lives
of the furriest members of our family.

[man 1.]
I'm gonna have to say,
I think pet translation is pretty crazy.

As a concept, it's absolutely crazy.

Um, the thing is, it's possible.

[upbeat piano music plays.]

In the future,
technology will let us communicate
with our dogs like never before.

[man 2.]
I mean, it'd be cool to see
what a dog is actually thinking.

If you get inside a dog's head,
a dog might look at you like
Food hoarder! She's a food hoarder!
That might be a Pandora's Box,
we might not like what they're thinking.

They might even
stop communicating with us
and start surfing the web.

Maybe they want to chew the internet
and all these other fabulous things.

If we learn to listen,
really listen,
we may be able to give them
an even better life.

[man 1.]
I think the closer
to humanity something is,
the more you have to embrace it
and the more you respect it.

[music ends.]


[theme music plays.]


[playful music plays.]

This is our dog, Bubba.

Bubba "Blue Eyes" Baker.

And this is Chili Cheese.

My dog's name is Sparks.

This is my dog, Dexter.

He just turned 11 last Friday.

People and dogs go way back.

Over the last 15,000 years,
we've taken the wolf,
turned it into the wiener dog
and made that wiener dog
an incredibly important part of our lives.

He's like my child, I would say.

[man 2.]
They call it man's best friend
because a dog loves you unconditionally.

We've been doing this now, like, 30 years.

My grandfather was a hunter,
he had German Shepherds
and we'd take care of the dogs.

It just grew from there.

We love our dogs,
and we spend a ton of money on them,
all of our pets, really.

In the US alone,
pet owners shell out
over $100 billion a year.

And yet, even with all that investment,
there's one thing
people still struggle with.

[man 3.]


[man 3.]
Iris, down.

Not for lack of trying.

Ey, down.


We've invented mood-ring collars
that claim to tell us
how our dogs might be feeling
[man 4.]
There you are.

webcams to say hi
when we're not home,
and buttons dogs can press
to make very basic requests in English.

[woman 1.]
Come play?
But this current tech
doesn't completely close
the communication gap.

There's still so much we don't understand
about what dogs are really saying.


Sparky! Sparky,
come with me, bro.

We just might need
a dog whisperer to share their secrets.

Dog training is 99.
9% people training.

The challenge and the task
for me is to translate
and get the human to understand
what the dog is saying,
what the dog needs.

So, how do dogs communicate?
Dog trainers have learned
to pick up on their subtle cues.

There are different ways
that dogs can communicate
with humans and dogs.

A lot of dogs speak with their body.

They have exquisite control
over their ears and tails.

Minute movements can spell out
stress, excitement, fear, or relaxation.

And, of course, the barks.



Barks can be greetings, warnings,
attention-seeking, or expressions of pain.

They're all different sounds.


Smell is also key.

Their noses are at least 10,000 times
more sensitive than ours.

With odors, dogs can give off or pick up
information about age,
reproductive health,
and psychological states.

What's he telling you?
From their odors,
to the fur on their backs,
to the way they bite other dogs,
there are so many subtle ways
dogs communicate their emotions.

Whether all these signals add up
to language is a question for linguists,
but we can still try to decode
what they're actually saying.

The end goal is
for the humans to be able to understand
and communicate with their dog.

And that opens up a whole 'nother world.

Humans might not be fluent
in bark anytime soon,
but within the next ten years,
artificial intelligence is on track
to translate those nuanced dog behaviors
into a human language we can understand.

Those futuristic developments
are already underway.

[electronic music plays.]

I'm Con Slobodchikoff,
I'm founder and CEO of Zoolingua.

We are developing a pet translator
to translate dog language
into human language.

I might be out of a job with that thing.

Con spent 40 years studying
how animals like dogs communicate.

Now, he's turning those years of research
into an AI-driven software
called Zoolingua.

Eventually what's going to happen
is that somebody will have an app,
probably on their cell phone,
and they will record the behavior
of their dog.


This app will send information
up into the cloud,
where the AI model
will analyze the behavior.

There are some
dog-translation apps already available,
but most just listen to barks,
if the app is listening at all.

And they claim to be
for entertainment purposes only.

By using AI to analyze
thousands of hours of dog footage,
apps like Zoolingua
could start to pick out
all those subtle dog communication cues
like barks, wiggles, and sniffs
that humans usually don't notice.

If we can associate those cues
with sentiments,
- anger, fear, frustration
- [barks.]

we'll be on our way
to a true dog translator.

With this app,
we would know for sure what it is
that the dog is trying to tell us.

[Big Boi.]
And you'd be able to know
what the dog is saying to you?
That's dope.
I mean, if it's really
if it's real, it's dope.

Con is not the only one
trying to decode animal communication
using artificial intelligence.

Computer scientists at
the University of Cambridge
have trained an algorithm
to look at a sheep's facial expression
and gauge how much pain it's in.

A company in Sweden is using AI
to decode dolphin communication.

But for all this tech to really work,
we need to learn a lot more
about what's going on
inside different animals' heads.

Whether their thoughts and feelings
even translate to human language,
and that includes dogs.

- [barks.]

- Baby.

The system has to be able
to look at their ear position
or their tail position,
and in order for it to correspond
to patterns in what they mean,
we have to know what they mean,
which we don't always.

The question, I think, is how nuanced,
how detailed are we really
going to be able to be here?
I just don't feel like
a machine can fully translate
what the dog really wants.

It's a little bit deeper
than a machine, you know.

It's not an X-ray machine
or Google Translate.

It's a little bit more complex than that.


Let's be optimistic though, and imagine
our working dog translator
arrives one day.

How will that change
our relationship to our dogs?
At first, pet parents will probably
have to chase their dogs around
with their phones to figure out
how they're feeling.

[woman 2 laughs.]

But in the coming decades,
this technology could become
a real game-changer.

Vets could use more accurate sensors
to better diagnose their patients.

There'd be supersensitive microphones
that could pick up the entire range
of dog vocalizations,
high-speed cameras to track
the smallest changes
in their body language,
and even odor sensors to detect
the pheromones they're releasing.

This technology might even help
diagnose mysterious medical issues.

Could this technology
help diagnose depression?
Another thing
that'd be really useful
for this kind of AI is at dog parks,
when you could actually see
two dogs interacting with each other.

And sometimes I think,
for humans, it's hard to tell
if that's, like, a play interaction,
is that a not-play interaction?
And if the AI can say,
"Hey, hey.
Danger zone here.

This is actually not play,"
and you can separate the dogs
before it becomes an issue.

That'd be another amazing application.

If this technology
gets good enough,
we might finally know
what our dogs are trying to tell us.

But are we ready
for that kind of intimacy?
Do we really want
to hear our dogs' thoughts?
[whimpers, grunts.]

What if they're genuinely
terrified of the vacuum cleaner?
Or miserable in their kennel?
What if every morning you leave for work,
your dog really does believe
you'll be gone forever?
Once we are able to understand
what a dog is thinking,
um, that might be a Pandora's Box,
and we might not like
what they're thinking.

If I could understand
my dog's thoughts, um,
I would get cussed out a lot,
I would get a hear a couple f-bombs
and all these words that people shouldn't,
and dogs, shouldn't be saying.

[man 5.]
I don't know how I'd feel
if he said he didn't like me.

I would probably lean to liking things
a little bit more mysterious.

I think sometimes it'd be discouraging.

It'd be cool, but I like the natural way
of finding things out from my dog.

[man 6, in Spanish.]
 It's the best alarm,
the best possible alarm.

[Smollett in English.]
Some people are
probably not ready for
the dog's honest truth.


But if we learn
to understand our dogs better,
it can lead to an even better relationship
with our fur babies.

[electronic music plays.]

Fifty years from now,
what might dog-human relations look like?
Well, technology's a good place to start.

All those dog-communication tools
could be streamlined and miniaturized
till they're basically invisible.


They could be installed in your home
and collect real-time information
about your dog's thoughts and feelings,
delivered visually
or through our headphones.

Perhaps we could
even talk back to our dogs,
not just with the tone of our voice,
but with smells.

As humans, we focus
on verbal communication,
but for dogs,
they are probably prioritizing smell.

Future devices could produce
synthetic pheromones
that could reach a dog better
than a spoken command.

Dog freaking out over a robot vacuum?
Just tell her to relax,
and the device can generate
a dog-appeasing pheromone.

That is a pheromone that dogs
instinctively recognize
as kind of having a calming effect.

And there could be
an array of these olfactory cues,
like ones that help us tell our dogs,
"Don't worry about the mailman.

He's not a threat.
The house could monitor
your dog's environment,
even signals you can't see or hear
and then help you
better respond to their needs.

Dog owners could use
this two-way communication
to have an actual dialogue
with their pets.

Ask them a question as simple as,
"What do you wanna eat for dinner?"
Or as profound as,
"Do you want this
to be your forever home?"

[man 1.]
To communicate with a dog,
to be able to actually say,
"How do you feel?" "Where is the pain?"
Suddenly, we get
this whole new world opening up.

If we're going
to really listen to dogs,
a new class of professionals will help.

We might need dog therapists to talk them
through their separation anxiety
or even their vacuum cleaner phobia.

I'm stressed out right now.

We can still break it down into, well,
"Why are you stressed out?" right?
"Lie down on the sofa and tell me why.
We could even
improve their time at the kennel
while we're away from home,
making their stay more engaging.

And some researchers
have already discussed a wild possibility.

Building them a dog internet.

A dog internet?
You're starting to sound
a little crazy now, but it's, you know
Let's just give it a try.

Let's start dipping our toe in the water.


Come here.
Oh good boy.

In 2019,
Ilyena Hirkskyj-Douglas
wrote a paper that explored
the idea of a dog internet.

At the heart of this thought experiment
was a simple question.

What would the internet look like
if it was from a dog's world?
Maybe they want
to chew the internet, you know?
Maybe they want to smell
and other fabulous things.


I think the way
that animals interact already
in these beautiful subtle ways
can really be put into technology.

In the paper,
Ilyena and her collaborators pose
six speculative designs
for the dog internet.

They ranged from hologram playdates
to virtual tug-of-war.

Tug-of-war over the Internet for dog,
that was the one idea that I thought,
"This is nice.
This could work.
There is a bit of a tug
on the interface of the dog
in place A and a bit of a tug in place B,
and when each dog can pull on the tug
and the traction exerted on the tug
by one dog would be felt
the opposite direction by the other dog.

And that I think could work
because, in that case,
all the internet does is
to collapse the space in between.

- [breathes heavily.]

- [woman 3 laughs.]

In the far future,
you could see ideas like this growing
into an immersive social network for dogs.

[dog howls.]

They could howl
to log on to the internet
and then come face-to-face with dogs
that actually live
halfway around the world.

But even more important than seeing them,
they could really smell them
and really play with them.

You could imagine humans being able
to set up playdates between their dogs,
or even the dogs
scheduling the playdates themselves.

The virtual-reality thing?
Let me give you feedback on that.

I don't think it's gonna work.

It's not something that we should rely on
because virtual, especially for a dog,
will never replace the real thing.

There's always the possibility
that our dogs don't even want
to live in a virtual world.

Maybe they're satisfied
with a good run at the dog park.

But what if the dog internet is a success?
Could dogs have virtual friends
liking their post?
Or maybe play online
with a kid who's allergic
and could never have a dog at home?
Could we see the rise of a dog influencer?
The world of dogs could suddenly become
much larger, all at the click of a paw.

I just want to make things
that really enable an animal
to expand their world
and have control over their world,
to really help benefit their welfare.

[woman 4.]
Should we go outside?
What do you say?
The idea that one day
we'll be able to understand our dogs
and give them a better life?
It's delightful.

But that will also come
with a lot more responsibility.

Caring for a dog as a true companion
is time-consuming, expensive,
and emotionally complicated.

And it could have
a surprising consequence.

Fewer pet dogs.

But if dogs' welfare
is taken more seriously,
we might also see an end to puppy mills,
overflowing shelters, and euthanasia.

We will automatically,
I think, give the dog more rights
if the dog can communicate with us
because we'll understand
we're not "better" than they are.


When we taught chimpanzees sign language,
all of a sudden there were questions
about whether we can use them
in research because now
they can communicate with us.

I think the closer
to humanity something is,
the more you have to embrace it
and the more you respect it.

[Big Boi.]
If you're a dog lover,
you have to understand dogs.

And so the more love you show that dog,
the more love he's going to show you back,
the more you're able to understand 'em.

So, where does that leave
the hundreds of millions of pet dogs
in the world today?
And the people who care
so deeply for them?
[woman 5.]
I've learned
so much from my dogs,
and being able to read his emotions better
and know what he's thinking,
I think would just increase that bond
and the strength of that relationship.

Dogs have saved my life so many times.

There's no way I can be without a dog,
without teaching someone about dogs,
without reading about dogs,
without learning more about dogs.

So I'm very curious
what the future is gonna be like.

For now,
dogs are still our furry,
lovable little mysteries.

We'll take the barks, the snuggles,
and the belly-scratch sessions
until they tell us otherwise.

The future can't come soon enough.

[indistinct chatter.]

[theme music plays.]

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