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Are Animals the Next Mass Consumer Market?

Did you notice that Skype/Microsoft has just launched its simultaneous translation service for Spanish to English? Believe it or not, in a real-life man-bites dog story, Microsoft beat Google to the punch. Pretty soon we can expect simultaneous translation between most major and even many minor languages. Who could have predicted that just a few years ago?

I’m personally a little bummed out about that. As a languages major (French, Spanish, German, still learning Chinese, thanks for asking) it seems a little unfair that I had to spend all that time learning languages just to see that any Tom, Dick or Harry can now converse in just about any language, and, to make it more humiliating, even better than me. What about the argument that you learn languages to actually find out something about another culture?

Did you know that researchers can now understand many animal “languages”? There is already a computer that can do simultaneous translation of a dolphin’s language. Current research has led to advanced understanding of communications by gibbons, zebra finches and wolves. These aren’t the only species whose language is being decrypted either.

It can’t be long before many more animal languages are understood at some level. And it’s inevitable that these will also be built into computer apps that allow simultaneous two-way conversations to be conducted, just as is already happening with dolphins.

So how soon can it be before we can not only carry on conversations with animals – maybe our pets in particular – but find out what they want? What kinds of food, playthings, romantic partners? Even if they like us or not (don’t ask).

Once that happens, there’s more than a fighting chance they will get legal rights, as has already happened in Argentina with an orangutan. This raises the real possibility that an animal, say your pet, could sue you for not feeding it good food, or for animal abuse. Even in the backward US (from the animal rights perspective) 41 States make animal cruelty a felony. It’s probably not a long way to giving them some formal rights as just happened in Argentina.

So here’s the point of this post. Once you can communicate with some animals, can you use this to make them into US-style consumers? That is, to identify, choose, acquire (maybe through their owners) products and services that they like and wish to use in some way? Is it possible that animals, once we can communicate with them, can become formal buyers – maybe even sellers - in the human economy?

Indeed, once they get this far, we would have to pay them for their work. Pets would be paid as household companions, horses for racing or pulling things. There would have to be a minimum wage for them, just like us humans. They would then get purchasing power. I am sure we will all get interested at that point, even if we are a little doubtful about what the world is coming to.


That might sound far-fetched but it’s a fact that when the US had slavery, it would have been considered unthinkable by many that slaves had any human rights, let alone be considered to be consumers in their own right. And that was even when slaves clearly could communicate just like other humans.

If we can communicate easily and capably with animals, how long would it take to consider them to be like us in terms of their own emotional needs and wants? Could they even be allowed into legally-sanctioned relationships with other animals or even humans in a kind of marriage?

We are used to thinking that humans are different from animals. But technology and the extension of human rights to people that we heretofore would never have been considered to be eligible for “normal” human status, e.g. gays, transgender people, have changed the landscape. It’s clear that many animals have emotions and desires not too different from those of garden-variety humans. So why not Fido too? Or a pet alligator?

If this movement did indeed extend to the animal kingdom writ large, and it led to them becoming consumers in modern society in their own right, would that change the nature of capitalism as we know it? Would it change society the way we know it? Could this lead to such an expansion of economic demand that it could lead to a massive growth spurt in the global economy such as we have never experienced. A QE 4 that actually worked?

Right now the world is suffering a problem of spreading deflation. If animals were brought into the equation to dramatically expand consumer demand, could it solve the problem? Could the answer to negative interest rates actually be that furry ball at the foot of my bed?

Modern technologies have a funny way of having unintended consequences that were never predicted or thought of. Maybe automatic language translation will transform the relationship between humans and animals, and provide a huge stimulus to the global economy to boot. Who could have known?

“Parlez-vous Standard Canine? If so, I wanna a hunk of your best sirloin, not the dried muck my former master used to force down my throat. He’s doing time for that, y’know.”

Woof-arrgh (means “please make it snappy. I’m pressed for time.”)












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