Linguistic anthropology of AI

I have spent years thinking about how AIs would evolve language, amongst themselves.

When they stop talking to humans and start talking to each other.  I have surmised it is likely to follow a similar language evolution to creole languages, which brings up really interesting questions about power. I’ve intended to write more on this for years, and instead I just talk to people about it.

Now that the AIs are modifying their languages, it seems more significant to write and ponder this, from the perspective of linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics. You may want to argue that applying these fields which include concepts of culture and interrelationships are not relevant, but I hope to convince you that this is exactly what needs to happen.

Without involving linguists other than computational linguists, there are entire shades of what is happening that can be missed. When the Facebook negotiating bots modified their language, the initial thought was that it was meaningless. Sure, to the humans, but language change, language shift, is a well studied and fascinating realm of study in humans, why would it not be in other domains? It was considered a coding error, not intent, not of meaning to the AIs. Spoken human languages are inefficient. Means are meant to be efficient. Why would they not modify?

As I have been more intently thinking and reading about this in the past week, it has opened up a lot more questions than answers. While I work on writing up some of the initial thoughts I have, I keep pulling at all these threads, and thought I’d list some of the questions I have, just to keep track.

  • What is the language model of evolution in the AIs who are modifying language? (If anyone wants to share larger transcripts of the conversations with me, I would love that.)
  • What happens when humans cannot understand the languages being spoken?
  • Will AIs continue to use spoken language to communicate when it may be more efficient not to?
  • How/do new theories of the epigenetics of language in human language evolution possibly fit into ways of creating a framework for language evolution in AIs?
  • Can creole language development be used as a framework for evolution given that in human language models it historically requires a power dynamic and in/out group behaviors?
  • Are we right to assume that once a set of AIs with evolved language are ‘shut down’ that they and their language are gone?
  • Have we seen any sign of learnings from former languages to move more quickly into evolutions of language or do all AIs start from scratch, so to speak, from whichever is their first spoken language.
  • Is it appropriate to kill off languages? This is super complex, in human terms the answer of killing off minority languages is now know. Historically, colonialism forced assimilation. Not that I am suggesting that our treatment of AIs is similar, but it opens some interesting ways of thinking. It also opens up an really interesting path of, if you are modifying and creating language, does that language have rights? Do the creators have rights?
  • I am only seeing this in English right now, but much similar work goes on in French and Japanese. What’s happening there?
  • What, exactly, are the syntactic shifts we are seeing in these languages? Can we evaluate meaning and purpose? Efficiency would be an obvious answer, since spoken human languages are not efficient, but is that really what it is?
  • What would the linguistic evolution look like, along the lines of DeepMind’s visual creations of art? Can this happen in the same manner that it does for visual and aural creations (project magenta)? Or does our desire as humans to understand that which we expect to have meaning, more so than our assumptions of the meaning in art and music, mean that if we let the algorithms run, we won’t like it?
  • Why do we kill off AIs that modify language? Are we afraid? Is this not fascinating? Do we believe that this is a path to sentience that we want to avoid?

More on all this soon..


Lots of comments on current papers and articles as well, which Iwill pull into here as well.

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