Cell phone app understands your cat’s facial expressions

AI in cellphone app can read feline facial expressions
AI in cellphone app can read feline facial expressions. Image: The Times.

A cell phone (smartphone) app, in development, but in beta version called Tably, uses artificial intelligence (AI) to be able to read a domestic cat’s facial expressions to tell the owner how their cat feels. It is an interesting development on the back of previous studies which showed that domestic cats do have subtle facial expressions particularly when they feel pain. Domestic cats’ faces were mapped very precisely to see the relationship between various elements of the face and how they moved when the cat was in pain or distress.

Cat suffering from pain
Cat suffering from acute pain showing the facial expression compared to a pain free cat and one suffering moderate pain.

The app has been developed by an animal health company in Canada. Essentially you photograph your cat with your cell phone and provided the photograph is of sufficient quality the app reads it and provides you with an analysis. It works by picking up various points on a cat’s face as mentioned in those previous studies.

Cat owners will be able to can tell whether your cat is happy or unhappy. Perhaps the better description would be whether your cat is relaxed and content or in pain. That would be my assessment.

Tably in use
Tably in use. Photo: Wild Rose Cat Clinic in Calgary.

One of the previous studies referred to was published in 2019 in the journal Scientific Reports. It was conducted by Canadian researchers. They produced a “feline grimace scale” or FGS. It’s a reliable tool for assessing acute pain felt by domestic cats.

Picture of a cat in considerable pain is useful for cat owners

Until around the 1950s, even veterinarians were unsure whether domestic cats felt pain. I am generalising because clearly many veterinarians understood that they did but not until recent times have cats been routinely treated with specialist painkillers after operations such as declawing. They focus on this nowadays and use it as a marketing tool.

We now know better but, to be honest, it is common sense that cats feel pain. Although, as we all know they tend to hide it with a slightly inscrutable appearance and the need to physically hide themselves away. When cats are in pain, they tend to become passive and hide. They don’t do what humans do and scream and shout and tell the world that they are in pain!

In words, when a cat is in pain they have a taut muzzle, squinted eyes, ears rotating outwards or slightly stretched whiskers.

The creation of the app is the result of a collaboration between an artificial intelligence company (Alta ML) and The Bar G, which is a group of companies involved in a variety of activities ranging from sleep gadgets to animal health. Machine learning and AI was used in the creation of this technology. Developers introduced a lengthy series of images of cats to the software for it to memorise, understand and analyse.

They say that the accuracy is as high as 97% provided the image quality of the cat is good.

The app on sylvester.ai today. And you can download it: “Download the open beta today and start making more informed cat health decisions”.

Comment: it’s a good idea, obviously, because anything that can help cat owners understand their cat better must be to the good. I feel that many cat owners are not observant enough and do not attempt to analyse their cat’s feelings when distressed. You don’t really need this app if you are an excellent cat owner who is observant and educated. If not, it will certainly help to become a better cat guardian.

Source: The Times hardcopy. My appreciation.

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Schrödinger’s cat is an analogy for the “superposition” of quantum computers

Quantum computing is a concept which is still being pursued as one that can be commercially exploited. It is based upon the thought experiment of Schrödinger’s cat. Or perhaps it is better to say that Schrödinger’s cat illustrates the concept of “quantum superposition”.

Schrödinger’s cat

In this almost unintelligible thought experiment a cat is placed inside a sealed box with radioactive material and a poison. A monitor inside the box detects radioactivity and the flask containing the poison is shattered killing the cat. An interpretation called the “Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics” implies that the cat is simultaneously dead and alive. In observing the cat, it is either dead or alive and cannot be dead alive at the same time. As I understand it, “quantum superposition” is illustrated in the way that the cat is both dead and alive at the same time but this state of affairs collapses into reality at a point when the cat is alive or dead.

Schrödinger’s cat. Ullustration in public domain.


A Cambridge start-up – a small business with aspirations to be a large successful one and into which investors pour money in the expectation that they become rich – is pushing forward with quantum computers. Steve Brierley is the founder of a business called Riverlane. He is an expert on Schrödinger’s cat! I’m glad someone understands it. He wants to make the concept of quantum mechanics useful and is an optimist and a pragmatist. His colleagues say there is no future in quantum computing but he disagrees.

Diagram of Schrödinger's cat thought experiment. Roughly based on Schroedingerscat3.jpg.
Diagram of Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment. Roughly based on Schroedingerscat3.jpg – Wikipedia.

Qantum computing

In brief, standard computing relies on “bits” that are either on or off, 1 or 0. This form of computing is limited to binary decisions. Everything is broken down into this on and off form of processing. Quantum computers use qubits. This form of computing is based upon the premise that bits can be on and off, 1 and 0, at the same time. In other words the computing equivalent of Schrödinger’s cat being dead and alive at the same time. It seems to be physically impossible.

The objective when achieved is much faster computing. In 2019 Google apparently claimed to have achieved supremacy in the world of quantum computing. Their rivals, IBM, disputed it.

Some experts believe that it is almost impossible to build the hardware to run a quantum computer and therefore it could never be exploited commercially. With this in mind Mr Brierley thought he might be developing a program that would never exist. Perhaps it existed in his mind, a thought experiment, and no more!

Commercially exploiting quantum computers appears to be very difficult. One problem is that you have to design a bespoke operating system for each computer. Brearley developed their own operating system called Deltaflow. It is apparently similar to the old DOS operating system that we had in PCs in the 1980s.

At the beginning

Brierley believes that quantum computers are a bit like the early digital cameras were: pretty poor compared to film cameras at that time. And currently quantum computers are not as good as standard laptops. But we can see how digital cameras developed and evolved into the fantastic devices that they are today. You have more computing power in a smart phone then you did on Apollo 13, far more. And digital cameras in smart phones are far superior to the old digital cameras.

Brierley regards quantum computers as “chemistry on steroids”. He hopes to make an impact on the computer industry within about five years. And he also hopes that these computers will be able to solve problems that would otherwise never be solved. Schrödinger’s cat is in the news again and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.

My thanks to James Hurley of The Times 7 Sept 2020.

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