All in a day’s work… for a service dog

A friend, and colleague, of mine has been visiting me this week from Australia. While he is here he is giving two masterclasses as well as a public talk. The public talk was last night, the 17th April 2019.

Kevin works at ICRAR as a Senior Research Fellow. His talk was entitled “Radio Astronomy, The Square Kilometre Array and Citizen Science: Canada & Australia” and approximately 20 people attended, most of whom were from the local Sault Ste Marie community.

During his talk Kevin explained that machine learning, whilst advancing rapidly, is still only capable of learning one thing at a time. To demonstrate what he meant he used Kai. Kai was curled up dozing at my feet. Until I set off the alarm on my phone at which point he immediately jumped up and alerted me to the sound nicely demonstrating his work as a hearing dog.

However, Kai is also trained for a number of other issues including mobility and to demonstrate this I dropped a set of keys. Kai immediately picked them up and gave them to me (which is what you can see in the picture for this Blog).

Kai also demonstrated his training when Kevin bounced a ball at a wall near him, and he ignored it. Kai also ignored a water bottle that was dropped and rolled near him too. He was very proud of himself!

What was interesting though was that while we used Kai as an example of how even a dog has more reasoning capability than machine learning/artificial intelligence does he also did something else.

There was a hard of hearing lady in the audience. (Actually it was a case of the deaf leading the deaf last night as Kevin and I are both hard of hearing and there were several members of the audience who were hard of hearing as well). Anyway, after the talk this lady came to speak to me.

Seeing Kai work had been a realisation for her that perhaps a service dog would be able to give her some independence back. I gladly discussed the kinds of hearing tasks that Kai is trained for and informed her of the Lions program for hearing dogs.

So in one night Kai demonstrated his training by remaining calm throughout the presentation, despite Kevin making some interesting noises: alerted to an alarm, picked up a set of dropped keys and demonstrated to others just how a service dog can help a disabled person retain, or regain, their independence.

For Kai of course, this was all in a day’s work!

Photograph Credit: Megan Parlowe