Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

CategoryLanguage

illustration-eines-eisbergs-stockpack-adobe-stock
Illustration eines Eisbergs

Cormac McCarthy Tries To Make Sense of the Unconscious Mind

He offers shafts of light that make the “hard problem of (un)consciousness” feel less forbidding

In a classic piece at Nautilus, novelist Cormac McCarthy (b. 1933) — author of, among other novels, All the Pretty Horses (1992) and The Road (2007) — muses on the origin and nature of the unconscious mind. As we might expect from a novelist, it’s not his grand theory that is of much use at all. His grand theory is that “the unconscious is a machine for operating an animal,” which makes no sense. He adds, “All animals have an unconscious. If they didnt they would be plants.” How does he know that pond hydras, for example, have an “unconsciousness” but maple trees don’t? Well, he doesn’t. And yet, he also offers shafts of light that make the “Hard Problem Read More ›

concept-of-a-program-for-a-smartphone-to-translate-from-different-languages-stockpack-adobe-stock
Concept of a program for a smartphone to translate from different languages

Neuroscientist Takes Aim at Yuval Noah Harari’s Claims re Humans

Behavioral neuroscientist Darshana Narayanan says that much of what Harari writes “sacrifices science for sensationalism” and is “riddled with errors”

Many readers have read our article last June on historian and transhumanist Yuval Noah Harari’s musings on what to do with the people that artificial intelligence is rendering “useless.” Now, first off, what Harari envisions is not happening. As business prof Jay Richards is fond of noting, AI enables more people to craft the jobs they want, with AI doing the traditional drudgery. Despite automation (or because of it),there are still plenty of Help Wanted signs out there. Call the argument Homo Deus vs. The Human Advantage: The Future of American Work in an Age of Smart Machines, if you like. But at Current Affairs, behavioral neuroscientist Darshana Narayanan offers another critique. Apart from having a disturbing attitude to fellow Read More ›

multiracial-friends-having-fun-and-laughing-drinking-coffee-in-coffeehouse-diverse-young-people-talking-joking-sitting-together-at-cafe-table-multi-ethnic-millennials-spending-time-in-coffee-shop-stockpack-adobe-stock
Multiracial friends having fun and laughing drinking coffee in coffeehouse, diverse young people talking joking sitting together at cafe table, multi ethnic millennials spending time in coffee shop

How Would an AI Chatbot Handle the Complexities of Oral Language?

University of Toronto linguist Joseph Wilson unpacks some of the differences between the way we speak and the way we write

Joseph Wilson, a linguist and journalist who has done considerable work with oral languages (languages not yet written down), offers some thoughts on claims that chatbots like Blake Lemoine’s LaMDA, really speak like human persons. He offers a sharp distinction between oral language and the written language that chatbots are trained on: But this excludes all unwritten forms of communication: sign language, oral histories, body language, tone of voice, and the broader cultural context in which people find themselves speaking. In other words, it leaves out much of the interesting stuff that makes nuanced communication between people possible. Joseph Wilson, “Why AI Will Never Fully Capture Human Language” at Sapiens (October 12, 2022) We really don’t know how old spoken Read More ›

concept-of-translation-from-different-languages-on-an-abstract-world-map-stockpack-adobe-stock
Concept of translation from different languages on an abstract world map

What Happens When You Feed a Translation Program Utter Nonsense?

Indiana University cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter had a lifelong acquaintance with and admiration for the Swedish language and with the help of Swedish friends, became conversant with it. That led him in turn to try an experiment on machine translation programs such as Google Translate and DeepL. At Inference Review, he tells us, “although — or perhaps because — these programs have improved by leaps and bounds over the past few years, I greatly enjoy discovering and poking fun at their many unpredictable weaknesses.” Thus the author of author of Gödel, Escher, Bach (1979) constructed a paragraph of pure nonsense in made-up Swedish, something like Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky,” which plays around similarly with English: All mimsy were the borogoves, And Read More ›

sanger-sequencing-3d-illustration-of-a-method-of-dna-sequencing-stockpack-adobe-stock
Sanger Sequencing. 3D illustration of a method of DNA sequencing.

If DNA Is a Language, Who Is the Speaker?

Philosopher Steve Meyer talks about the significance of Francis Crick’s sequence hypothesis that shows that DNA is literally a language of life

In a talk at the Dallas Conference on Science and Faith (2021), philosopher Steve Meyer looked at the question of whether a multiverse, as in Multiverse of Madness (2022), or God, as in many traditions is the origin of our universe. That is, is our universe designed — as considerable evidence suggests — or is ours just one of a few lucky universes whose extra-lucky conditions allow for advanced life? Dr. Meyer is the author of The Return of the God Hypothesis (Harper One, 2021) which argues that the evidence from science favors God over a multiverse. (Sample here.) In this first of four transcripts of the talk, he talks about how and why it matters to ordinary people which Read More ›

foreign-languages-translation-or-learning-languages-online-mobile-phone-or-smartphone-with-dictionary-app-on-the-screen-stockpack-adobe-stock
Foreign languages translation or learning languages online. Mobile phone or smartphone with dictionary app on the screen.

Six Brain Regions Control Language — But We’re Not Sure How

We’re learning more about human language but it remains, in its way, mysterious

Neuroscientist Saima Malik-Moraleda told The Scientist, recently that six main regions of the brain respond to language tasks but not to, say, math tasks. Using fMRI data, a recent comprehensive survey — of which she is a co-author — examined two native speakers of each of 45 languages while the speaker was performing either a linguistic or non-linguistic specific task. From the interview, SM-M: But the variability that we saw across languages was lower than the variability that we see across participants, meaning that the language network seems to be incredibly stable and similar across languages. One of the questions that cognitive neuroscientists who particularly study language wonder is: “Why do we have six areas? What does each area do?” Read More ›

outpost-stockpack-adobe-stock
outpost

Three Simple Words Can Find Any Place on Earth

The “what3words system” of geolocation is easier to remember than many street addresses and may also work for passwords

What3words is an app and web-based service that can convert practically any location within 3 × 3 meters (or 10 × 10 feet) — the size of a typical small bedroom or den — to just three short English words if you can give it an address. Don’t believe that? Try it. The address of the Library of Congress is person.hotels.canny The address of the Louvre Museum in France is started.pelting.pops And … bluffs.alas.skater? That’s the address of a Canadian Tire store somewhere in Ottawa. Clicking Bing Maps at the What3Words site will give you that store’s street address, satellite image and tell you how to get there. So why do this? Math prof Mary Lynn Reed explains: This new Read More ›

baby-chimpanzee-ape-at-the-zoo-stockpack-adobe-stock.jpg
baby chimpanzee ape at the zoo.

Human Brain Has Many More Language Connections Than Chimp Brain

That finding isn’t surprising in principle but the researchers pinned down specific areas of greater connectivity

In a study of brain scans from 50 humans and 29 chimpanzees, researchers discovered an interesting difference: The connections between language areas in the human brain are much larger than previously thought and quite different from those of the chimpanzee brain. That’s, of course, consistent with the relative complexity of human thought and language but the question had not really been examined before with a focus on one specific area. The researchers were interested in a nerve tract that connects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, the arcuate fasciculus. Chimpanzee brain connectivity seems to involve mainly the temporal lobe but in humans there is a connection towards the frontal and parietal lobes via the arcuate fasciculus. “Our findings Read More ›