Notes on Future Language, part 7

As we discussed yesterday, ideally we want our augmentation of language to be naturally learnable. But how can we do such a thing?

Suppose we were to put together a committee of the smartest and most aware linguists. Alas, any gestural vocabulary or grammatical rules proposed by such a committee would be doomed to failure.

The adult mind simply cannot determine what is naturally learnable. Otherwise, millions of people would now be speaking that carefully constructed and beautifully rational language Esperanto.

The key is to allow our language extensions to be designed by little children. One might object that little children are not equipped to program computers.

Yet we can get around that objection as follows: Let us assume, thanks to forthcoming augmented reality technology, that little children can see the results of gestures they make in the air.

We can then observe the corpus of gestures those children make as they converse with one another, using machine learning to help us categorize that corpus. Initially we put only the most basic of behaviors into the system.

For example, a spoken word might generate a visual representation of that word (eg: saying the word “elephant” would generate a cartoon image of an elephant). Also, as children point or reach toward various virtual objects floating in the air, we might highlight those objects for them.

We then gather information from how they use this basic system to tell stories. As we do this, we aim to interfere as little as possible.

As we observe patterns and correlations between how children relate meaning and gestures, we may periodically add “power-ups”. For example, we might observe that children often grab at an object and then move their hand about. From such an observation, we may choose to make objects move around whenever children grab them.

We then observe over time whether children make use of any given power-up. If not, we remove it. Our goal is not to add any specific features, but to learn over time what children actually do when they have the opportunity to communicate with each other with visually augmented gesture.

By taking such an approach, we are guaranteed that the language which evolves out of this process will be naturally learnable by future generations of children.

Tomorrow: The last chapter in our story.

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