Artificial intelligence (AI) and language
Video credit: Chris I-B, “Ladder Climbing with Robot’s POV” July 30, 2013, via YouTube.
This video depicts a robot that can walk and climb a ladder. In robotics, it is believed that making robots walk similar to humans is one of the most challenging tasks. Scientists, however, seem to be making progress in this respect, as the video suggests. But how to make robots speak?
Here is what Chomsky thinks in this connection: “Language-using is not a separable ability of human beings: you can simulate baseball-throwing without simulating total human intellectual capacity, but you cannot simulate language using – even language-using in a fixed context such as going to the store and buying some milk, without simulating total human intellectual capacity” (in Cummings, 2005, p. 247).
The quote above points at the complexity of interpersonal communication and that it is virtually impossible to make robots speak without imitating the whole human intellectual capacity. It is probably so. In my opinion, making robot speak (i.e. communicate effectively, not just reproduce phrases or utterances) may be possible only with the creation of artificial intelligence. Going a step further from this assumption, I would like to suggest that Hymes’ SPEAKING model, in this case, would probably be helpful in “explaining” the robot what to pay attention to in a conversation. It is explained by the fact that effective communication is more than the ability to re/produce correct phrases or utterances (linguistic competence), it also involves the ability to consider both macro and micro contexts of the situation as well as being able to respond efficiently to the interlocutor’s replies and nonverbal behaviour (e.g. smile in response to a smile).
Cummings, L. (2004). Pragmatics: A multidisciplinary perspective. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.