I am in the middle of reading the Ender’s Game series, and my mind has been full of thoughts of aliens, computer programs, and robots as sentient beings. One aspect that has always fascinated me is their means of communication. Language is such a wonderful thing – ever-changing and taking on so many different forms. Of course, we can think all we want about aliens and AI, but we don’t know if we will ever see them become reality in our lifetime.
That is why work by people such as Ruth Schulz is so interesting. Schulz and her group of researchers from the University of Queensland and Queensland University of Technology have created robots which communicate using their own language. That in itself is nothing to wow at – after all, computers do have their means of communication. The amazing thing is that these robots – called Lingodroids – actually speak like humans do AND they create their own language as they go along. Not exactly sentient beings, but it’s a start, yes?
Evan Ackerman of the IEEE Spectrum provides a simplified explanation:1
To understand the concept behind the project, consider a simplified case of how language might have developed. Let’s say that all of a sudden you wake up somewhere with your memory completely wiped, not knowing English, Klingon, or any other language. And then you meet some other person who’s in the exact same situation as you. What do you do?
What might very well end up happening is that you invent some random word to describe where you are right now, and then point at the ground and tell the word to the other person, establishing a connection between this new word and a place.
I don’t know about you, but I find this research extremely exciting – both technologically and linguistically speaking! If this project progresses, we might have more languages to learn – aside from Klingon, Na’vi, and Dothraki, that is.