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Unique scribe library full of old and valuable manuscripts

Surprising Ways AI Can Help Recover Lost Languages

Researchers into lost languages hail the new technologies as a golden age for discovery

When an apparently indecipherable manuscript from a lost language turns up, AI can help. But first, how is a language born and how does it die (or get lost)? We really don’t know how human language was born. Theories abound but all we know for sure is that it is unique. In a 2017 paper at BMC Biology, evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel states flatly, “Human language is unique among all forms of animal communication.” In his open-access paper, he cuts short the widely popularized claims for chimpanzee language: Most ape sign language, for example, is concerned with requests for food. The trained chimpanzee Nim Chimpsky’s longest recorded ‘utterance’, when translated from sign language, was ‘give orange me give eat orange…

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Neanderthal or Homo Sapiens Family Cooking Animal Meat over Bonfire and then Eating it. Tribe of Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherers Wearing Animal Skins Eating in a Dark Scary Cave at Night

Did the Human Mind Originate in Telling Ourselves Stories?

A philosopher and writer tries to account for the jump from animal to human by wholly natural means
Philosopher Keith Frankish melds linguist Daniel Dor’s ideas with philosopher Daniel Dennett’s to come up with a revealingly circular theory. Read More ›
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Dog playing the shell game with her human. Concept of training pets, domestic dogs being smart and educated

In What Ways Are Dogs Intelligent?

There is no human counterpart to some types of dog intelligence

At Gizmodo recently, George Dvorsky adopted the useful, though somewhat unusual, strategy of determining dog intelligence by focusing on what dogs can’t do. He starts with the premise, as put by University of Exeter psychology professor (and dog expert) Stephen Lea, who says that domestication “has radically altered the intelligence of dogs.” Not so much raised or lowered it as changed its nature from the type of intelligence we would expect from a wolf: “Dogs are very good at what they’re bred to do — they’re excellent at doing those things, and in some cases even better than other species we think are intelligent, such as chimps and bonobos,” Zachary Silver, a PhD student from the Comparative Cognitive Lab at…

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Baby girl in surprise talking on a vintage phone

Why Linguist Noam Chomsky Is a Great Scientist of Our Era

He singlehandedly rid linguistics of a stultifying (and technically mistaken) behaviorism

Noam Chomsky (right, in 2017) is, in my view, the best scientist of the past half-century. His work fascinates me, which is not a necessary criterion for being a great scientist—but it helps! I hasten to add that I do not share his politics—I’m of a conservative bent. But his theory of linguistics is brilliant and represents an anthropological, biological, and even metaphysical insight unrivaled in science since relativity and quantum mechanics. A case can be made that Chomsky’s insights are more profound than even those of modern physics, because they plumb the human soul in ways that physics cannot. To understand Chomsky’s achievement, it’s helpful to understand what linguistics was until Chomsky transformed it in the 1950s. Philosophers and…

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Groupe de Bonobos autour d'un hôtel à insectes

Can Animal Minds Rival Humans Under the Right Circumstances?

Are we just not being fair to animals, as some researchers think?

In 2007, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, a psychologist and primatologist , published a paper in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science with a remarkable citation: Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Kanzi Wamba, Panbanisha Wamba, and Nyota Wamba, “Welfare of Apes in Captive Environments: Comments on, and by, a Specific Group of Apes,” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 10:1 (2007): 7–19. What is remarkable about the paper is not the text but the authorship statement. Kanzi, Panbanisha, and Nyota Wamba are not co-author colleagues—they’re apes, bonobos to be specific. Dr. Savage-Rumbaugh (right) is a controversial scientist who believes that animals have intellectual powers that can, under the right circumstances, rival the human intellect. She included her ape subjects as co-authors on the paper because…

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Speak

How Do Sounds Contain Ideas?

Human language differs from animal and plant communication systems in that it enables the transmission of ideas

It’s not a simple question! Human language differs from animal and plant communication systems in that it enables the transmission of ideas, which are abstractions. Think of the Pythagorean theorem or tripartite government. Many explanations of how human language came to exist seem to be stabbing in the dark. Here are some of the current theories: Could language have arisen from hand gestures? We are told that “Wild chimpanzees, for example, have been seen to use at least 66 different hand signals and movements to communicate with each other. Lifting a foot towards another chimp, for example, means ‘climb on me’, while stroking their mouth can mean ‘give me the object’” (Horizon August 20, 2019). But these aren’t ideas, just…

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Shirts

Why Your Computer Will Never Talk to You

As a jokester recently demonstrated, even “shirts without stripes” is a fundamental, unsolvable problem for computers

At first, “shirts without stripes” might not seem like much of an issue but it turns out that many important and interesting problems for computers fundamentally reduce to this “halting problem.” And understanding human language is one of these problems.

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Will AI Ever Write a Critically Acclaimed Novel?

AI is starting to write and some of the copy reads quite well. Other writing is garbage. What’s the capability and limitation of writing by AI? Will AI ever write a novel that wins the Nobel Prize for Literature? Robert J. Marks and Dr. Selmer Bringsjord discuss creativity, artificial intelligence, and writing. Show Notes 00:37 | Introducing Selmer Bringsjord, Professor…

Archeological site of Phaistos in Crete

Can AI Help Us Decipher Lost Languages?

That depends mainly on the reasons we haven’t yet deciphered ancient texts

AI can speed up translation of ancient documents where only a few scholars know the language. Whether it can help with mysterious unknown languages like Minoan A is another question.

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Ruins of Knossos Palace, Crete, GREECE

Could Machine Learning Decipher Lost Languages?

It gives us new search powers, based on perennial facts of language

An endless variety of word games derives from the fact that only certain combinations and orderings of words can be correct. Machine learning applies vast resources to cracking the code.

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Server Farm Room

Gary Smith: The AI Delusion

“When I Nod My Head, Hit It!” And Other Commands that Confuse AI.

Pablo Picasso said “Computers Are Useless. They Can Only Give You Answers.”  Picasso didn’t go far enough. The answers that computers give must themselves be questioned. This is especially true of AI. Questioning AI is the topic today on Mind Matters. Show Notes 01:27 | Introduction to Gary Smith 02:40 | The AI Delusion 04:50 | Stocks and Data 07:00…

Digital binary brain illustrating big data and artificial intelligence

How Artificial Intelligence Shapes Our Language

Culture critic Mark Steyn reflects on the Matrix and the red pill, which seems to be everywhere
If communication relies so much on a few pop-culture references, it’s “an undoubted achievement” that The Matrix created one of them. Read More ›
The asian technician using the magnifying glass for repairing the tablet's motherboard in the lab. the concept of computer hardware, mobile phone, electronic, repairing and technology.
The asian technician using the magnifying glass for repairing the tablet's motherboard in the lab. the concept of computer hardware, mobile phone, electronic, repairing and technology.

We Need a Better Test for True AI Intelligence

Better than Turing or Lovelace. The difficulty is that intelligence, like randomness, is mathematically undefinable

The operation of human intelligence must be non-physical because it transcends Turing machines, which in turn transcend every physical mechanism.

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Petroglyphs on Newspaper Rock, Utah, USA.
Ancient symbols texture, Petroglyphs on Newspaper Rock, Utah, USA.

The Origin of Language Remains Obscure

One problem is that information is not measured in science in a way that relates to matter and energy.

Human language is much more than a system of signals. And two recent articles in Inference Review provide insight into some of its ongoing puzzles in the huge unmapped territory of the interaction between the mind and the brain.

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Silhouette of a female as training her dog - website banner
Silhouette of a female as training her dog - website banner

The Real Reason Why Only Human Beings Speak

Language is a tool for abstract thinking—a necessary tool for abstraction—and humans are the only animals who think abstractly

In his discussion of why only humans have language, science writer Tom Siegfried gets a lot right, but he misses the crucial reason.

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Colorful Parrot

Can genes predict which birds can learn to talk?

A recent study disappointed researchers, who really hoped to learn why humans use language
Parrots, it was found, have some unique, parrot-specific genes, whose origin is currently unknown, genes that may help them learn to mimic human sounds as well as bird calls. Read More ›
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How is Human Language Different from Animal Signals?

What do we need from language that we cannot get from signals alone?
Language, which is the rule-based use of abstract designators, is essential for abstract thought because only designators can point to things that have no concrete physical existence. Only human beings think abstractly, and language is what makes abstract thought possible. Read More ›