Humans, Bots and language

I had a brief chat with my linguistics professor today about the feasablility of teaching a robot to speak like a human being.

He said that while many scientists and linguists have attempted to teach bots to speak, they have, until now at least, failed to do it successfully.

He explained that this is because there is certain intuitive knowledge that humans use when we are speaking. There are some things that we know, due to our life experience that enhances our communication skills.

This is without even mentioning the emotional factor that affects the way humans express themselves and interact with others.

One example the professor gave was the lame attempt that have taken place to programme computers to translate texts from one language into another. If you have ever done this on the internet you will know what a complete failure it is. Thus any computer generated translation has to be checked and corrected by a person, therefore defeating the purpose of the task.

He wasn’t saying that it is an impossible task. In fact he referred to the Babel Fish in the Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and said that one day that might well be a reality!

What seems apparent to me is that though a bot might possess a complex lexicon (i.e. the store of words in one’s mind), it cannot process meaning in the same way that a human can. The meaning it can derive will merely be some kind of dictionary definition that has no link to concepts in the outside world.

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4 Responses to Humans, Bots and language

  1. Prem says:

    Very interesting. I wonder, what is that “link to concepts in the outside world”?

    What are the concepts themselves that remain beyond the jurisdiction of language?

    Whatever those concepts are, language is a way in which we can describe and refer to them – but the concepts themselves remain outside the binding of language.

  2. Roshnii says:

    Well, the link to concepts in the outside world is the information we receive through the senses.
    This data is then processed by the mind and linked to words in the lexicon.

    Linguists are still unsure how the lexicon functions, but it seems to be a complex sort of mental filing system that stores words and their meanings.

    We can describe any object, being or concept with varying degrees of accuracy using words, but without the sensory experience of that thing, or the life experience to process the concept, there is nothing more than words.

  3. Prem says:

    Examples of computer programs translating text from one language to another is Altavista’s attempt to achieve a Babel Fish-like translator.

    You enter the text and select which language you are translating from and which language you are translating to. And then you get something that mildly resembles the original meaning of the text.

    On the Splendid Ezine website, there is mention of a pastime of the “Extremely Bored” called Babelizing. This involves translating a piece of text with Systran’s Translator (which powers Altavista’s translator) and then repeatedly retranslating the text backwards and forwards between languages until you get something that is almost, but not entirely, unlike the original text.

    For example:

    The lyrics to “There She Goes” by The La’s

    Before: “There she goes, there she goes again, racing thru my brain. And I just can’t contain this feeling that remains.”

    After: “Here it goes, here still it goes and disc battery through my brain. It continues being and the ordered uniform then not to contain this sensitivity, that one.”

  4. Chomsky’s theory is humbug (there is certain intuitive knowledge that humans use when we are speaking).

    The real problem, imho.