This is Chris Crawford's Typepad Profile.
Join Typepad and start following Chris Crawford's activity
Join Now!
Already a member? Sign In
Chris Crawford
Recent Activity
Edward O. Wilson's new book, The Social Conquest of Earth is quite forthright in declaring its support of group selection. Indeed, much of the book is an extended explanation of how eusociality has had such great evolutionary success.
Toggle Commented Jul 26, 2012 on Language Serves the Group at Babel's Dawn
The computer scientists have long since figured out that computers cannot understand language, and they have even developed an explanation of why that cannot happen. They talk in terms of knowledge domains as regions of thought that include all the data, relationships, and ideas associated with a particular subject. Thus, it should be possible to write a program that could do a pretty good job of conversing with a human about a highly circumscribed topic -- so long as the human didn't use metaphors beyond the ken of the topic. It is widely acknowledged that such circumscription is highly artificial, hence getting a computer to understand language is a task beyond our abilities as yet. It's not a matter of having enough storage or speed. The problem is that language mirrors reality, and so to put language into a computer, you need to put reality into the computer. Can you imagine what a class called "Reality" would entail? The question then becomes, could we ever specify enough of reality to get language working? There has been an ongoing project for the last twenty years to do precisely that. It is, as you can imagine, a humongous task, and the developers are not confident that they can complete it in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, it is unquestionably something that CAN be done. After all, if it's part of reality, then we can express it in language, and if we can express it in language, then we can write down a formal version of that expression, a formal version that CAN be understood by a computer. I have no doubt that we will eventually get a workable subset of reality coded up. To call the result a database would be rather like calling human physiology a set of chemical reactions. It will be humongous, stupendous... very large. And processing something that big will take teracycles of processing. As I wrote, I have no doubt that it will be done someday -- but I also have no doubt that it will NOT be accomplished anytime in the next few decades.
Toggle Commented Jul 19, 2012 on Is Language Really a Computation? at Babel's Dawn
Computer scientists have, of course, been working on the problem of language for more than 50 years. Having expended lots of academic cannon fodder on the problem, they have come to the conclusion that, in general, it can't be done. They have their own terminology to describe the problem in ways that non-computer scientists have difficulty understanding, but the basic idea is that the computer must "know" about everything that language references. (Their term is "knowledge domains".) Since natural language refers to, well, the entire universe, any computer program to understand language must first know everything about the universe: that balls bounce, syrup bottles get sticky, Napoleon lost at Waterloo, and teenagers are rash, among other things. Equipping a computer with that much knowledge is not just technically impossible, it's conceptually impossible. Could you express all the knowledge you possess in some rigorous, structured format? This was the idea behind the Cyc project, which after 26 years is STILL being worked on -- and quite a few people are now skeptical that it will ever yield truly usable results. Since we haven't a clear idea of how to equip computers with complete knowledge of the universe that we perceive, we cannot expect to see computers doing much with language. They can do some impressive syntactical calculations, and when you can narrowly confine the subject matter to something that the computer can know about, then you can conceivably get some useful language activity out of a computer. Where this gets interesting is the situation in which we have a narrowly-defined universe coupled to a narrowly-defined language. Before you scoff at the idea of a narrowly-defined universe, let me remind you that every game creates its own narrowly-defined universe. Accordingly, we might see some interesting results coming out of the games field -- but don't hold your breath. The games people themselves don't comprehend any of this stuff. I've been working on it in the context of interactive storytelling, and I came up with a system I call "Deikto" that allows the creation of a narrow-defined universe/language as a single act of creation. But it's way too hard for most people to use.
Toggle Commented Dec 9, 2010 on This Century is Different at Babel's Dawn
Chris Crawford is now following The Typepad Team
Dec 8, 2010