No, it isn’t April 1. I have to admit: we’re very sceptical about the science behind this latest successful Raspberry Pi-powered Indiegogo, which is still at the concept stage; it’s an adorable idea, but backers should be aware that it’s not very likely to bear useable results. But enough people out there love their dogs enough to have put scepticism behind them, so No More Woof is now funded. I’ll show you the creators’ video so you can find out what it’s all about.
I found myself the caretaker of a cocker spaniel called Fred for a year about a decade ago. Fred belonged to my landlady, who wasn’t around much, so it fell to me to look after him. The really striking thing about Fred was that he was clearly incapable of using his brain to do anything other than wee on things. Fred was from a tragically dumb family. His father died when he jumped from a car window at 40 mph, having decided to chase some of the trees that were sprinting so fast and so enticingly by the side of the road. Fred himself was a racist, and had to be kept on the opposite side of the street from any people with skin darker than that of his owners, because he would lunge threateningly and make wolf-noises if allowed within savaging distance. It was worse if he liked you, in which case he would try incompetently and stickily to have sex with your legs. He was broadly untrainable, only responding to commands about 10% of the time, and then usually the wrong ones. He could not be left alone in the house, or he’d start to bark at the walls for hours on end, annoying the neighbours, and then set to eating your handbag. And subsequently weeing on what was left. And trying to have sex with it.
Fred, in common with many dogs (yours excluded, dear reader), was very, very dim. So much so that I’m a little hard-pressed to consider him as an entity that actually had thoughts of any kind: intellectually, Fred was more like a highly developed mollusc. Fred was a being of pure sensation. Fred lived in a world of smell and movement – he did not stop to consider the lilies, or much else.
This causes certain issues for those attempting to parse the thinking of dogs.
So, acknowledging this problem, No More Woof’s team have set their sights low, and will not be aiming to “translate” more complex dog-thoughts than “hungry”, “tired” and “curious”. (There is no point in making one of these for cats. I can tell you what Mooncake’s thinking right now: “asleep”.)
If you imagine a bold future in which you can strap an EEG monitor to your own dog’s head and use a Raspberry Pi to find out what he wants to wee on, you can still back the project, which has 47 days left. We await the team’s results with great interest.
(Fred has long since gone to the great kennels in the sky. I like to think that he’s happy, chasing Elysian handbags, and weeing on them.)