Galileo is dead

Cow talk

Apparently, a bunch of researchers in Germany have been attempting to figure out what cows mean when they moo. Obviously, some moos are cows asking to be milked, or denoting that they’re in pain. But the scientists are wondering what else there is. Do cows say shit like, “how’s it going” or “dig that sunset” or anything?

One of the biggest challenges in doing this research is that you need to record lots and lots of cow “utterances”. And the thing is — cows don’t actually talk very often. You have to record, like, seventeen hours of total silence before one of them actually moos.

Dr. Gerhard Jahns, a control engineer who helped devise the project, said that about 700 “vocalizations” were recorded from about 20 cows, a process he described as “extremely time-consuming.” Cows can go for hours without making a sound, Dr. Jahns said, “and it’s hard to get them to speak into the microphone.”

People say cows are really peaceful, but I don’t agree. I used to hang out on my Ukranian grandfather’s farm in Ontario and the cows kind of terrified me. For one thing, they’re huge.

Interesting side note: For $230, you can now buy a “Bowlingual,” which uses a neural-net-trained algorithm to determine what your dog is saying when it barks.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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