"Hello," I think… I could be mistaken.
April 27, 2010 10:50 AM Subscribe
Suppose you were designing a Star Wars
-esque protocol droid. How would it learn new languages it had never encountered before? I'm writing a science fiction story and I'm trying to figure out how a language-learning robot character might realistically handle a situation.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis to Writing & Language (37 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
A few questions in here. Feel free to approach them from an AI programming perspective, or from a psychology of learning perspective. It's all hypothetical future sci-fi from this point on, so there are no wrong answers.
Imagine your robot is alone on a mission, when it meets some intelligent creatures speaking an unknown language. It hears them speaking first and fails to identify their words as anything in its vast library of known languages. What happens next?
Would the droid start talking in some other language, with lots of gestures and body language (à la "You, Tarzan; Me, Jane")? Or perhaps just silently observe their speech until it felt comfortable assuming the meaning of certain words, and then try to use them? What's the fastest possible way to begin basic, usable communication, with a minimal risk of being misinterpreted as hostility? And how long would it take for the robot to become rudimentarily conversant with them in that language? Minutes? Days? Weeks?
Let's assume the robot has no limitations like clock speed or memory. It could have a screen and speakers for showing A/V content, if that's helpful. The robot's top priority is establishing good will with the creatures and demonstrating a willingness to speak with them. And in this case, that the creatures are also friendly and want to talk to it too.
Also… presumably the robot would begin by sizing up the creatures, with a different approach for humanoids versus other known alien types. What assumptions could it make about humanoids that would be almost universally applicable for communicating with them?