Monday, 18 April 2011

I discover Babel's Dawn

As I am sure you will have realised I am a newcomer to blogging as a tool for communicating scientific ideas, having abandoned my research in disgust over 20 years ago for the reasons I am currently writing up in The History of CODIL. Not only am I now writing may own blog – but more importantly I am beginning to explore the many established blogs to see how things have progressed during the intervening decades..

One thing I have been trying to explore is the possible relationship between my old research and the study of the evolution of intelligence. One area I had never properly explored when I was developing CODIL was the links with natural language – perhaps because there was no linguistics department in the University I was working at – so the subject never wandered in that direction in the common room.

Yesterday I discovered a post Did language originate in Africa on the blog Panda's Thumb and decided to follow the story up. The original paper Phonemic Diversity Supports a Serial Founder Effect Model of Language Expansion from Africa, had just been published in Science behind a subscription wall. However I found a very useful review, Last Common Language was in Africa, of the original paper on the blog Babel's Dawn

The idea of the “Last Common Language” got me thinking, and I found many of the other posts on the blog extremely stimulating. Over the next few days I will be revisiting this site to see where it leads. However the immediate impact was to make me think it might be useful to describe CODIL in terms of a Common Communication Language:-

CODIL can be considered as a common application independent language which provides two way communication between the human user and a novel type of information processing machine. To ensure good communication there must be “mutual understanding” and this means that the information processing machine must be able to explain what it is doing in the same language as the human uses to instruct the machine.

The interesting question that this raises is how far human intelligence resides in an innate processing mechanism, in the communication language, or in the information transferred using the communication language. I am sure I will be returning to this issue later.

Afterthought: A different view of the paper is given in Phonemic diversity decays "out of Africa"? This discusses the statistical foundations of the paper - and there can be little doubt that there are problems related to the quality of the source data and the way it has been manipulated. The difficulty is what can you do with inherently messy data - which can never give 100% confidence in the result of statistical calculations. As a scientist who has no experience of this field, but some with statistics, I see the paper as a useful model to base discussions around, and perhaps a means of stimulating the collection of more usable data.

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