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Tomorrow’s world

The dogs that talk to their owners

Salima Senyavskaya/Getty Images

Bunny the sheepadoodle puppy can tell her owner to “shut up and walk me”. How? By pressing buttons on a soundboard that “speaks” the commands to her owner, Alexis Devine, says Emma Madden in The New York Times. When Bunny recently pressed the “ouch”, “stranger” and “paw” buttons, she stretched out her paw – in which Devine found a thorn. She believes her dog has mastered 92 words, dozens more than the average human two-year-old. Bunny’s communications skills have won her more than 6.7 million followers on TikTok and 862,000 on Instagram, where “talking” dogs are big (search #hungerforwords).

Scans of dogs’ brains show that they discriminate between nonsense words and those describing familiar objects or activities. Their long evolution as domestic animals means they are sensitive to human social cues and have developed a facial expression that wolves haven’t – “puppy-dog eyes”, which we find extremely appealing. Scientists are excited about the vast amounts of data “talking” dog influencers and their followers might provide. As Devine says: “Any time [Bunny] chooses to communicate with me in a way that is not her natural communicative method, it feels really special.”

Watch Bunny “talking” here.

The hidden dangers of China’s spy tech

Chinese surveillance technology is being exported around the world, says the FT. This “new frontier” in Beijing’s global influence has reached cities in 64 countries. Chinese firms such as Huawei and Alibaba promise to do everything from diagnosing suspicious behaviour with security cameras to automating rubbish collection. But with convenience comes risk. Authoritarian governments might copy China and “impose a digital form of totalitarianism” on their citizens.

Then there’s the worry that companies – and, by extension, the Chinese state – could gain access to sensitive data or flick a “kill switch” to shut down a city’s infrastructure. The African Union accused Huawei of hacking its headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, “every night for five years” after it installed equipment there in 2012. Huawei says it has never collected data illegally.

A backlash is “gathering momentum”. President Biden has prohibited US investments in 59 Chinese companies and the English towns of Milton Keynes and Bournemouth have cancelled smart city contracts. But authorities in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, are planning to install 8,000 Huawei cameras to monitor residents. Local opponents, mindful of their country’s authoritarian past, are turning the tables by uploading images and locations of the new cameras online.