Re: Linguist's Of The Apocalypse, unite!

Eliezer Yudkowsky (
Thu, 30 Jan 1997 21:10:50 -0600

[Saith Lee Daniel Crocker:]
> But I don't think it applies here. Two facts get in the way: first,
> in order for two automatic translators to communicate effectively,
> they will need to share /some/ common protocol for representing the
> concepts they plan to exchange. The more universal this internal
> protocol is, the more useful the machines will be, so there is a
> drive for stability.
Why should the universal internal protocol be *English*? The simple act
of translation would seem to require some sort of semantic encoding. If
the semantic encoding is common - and this, note, is not a language at
all - then all an individual language needs is translation to and from
the semantic content. In other words, translating from English to
thought to Chinese to thought to Vietnamese is a wasted step; just
translate from English to thought to Vietnamese...

> Second, since much of the information content
> of something like a movie or television show is not expressed in
> the mere language used, such recordings will have to be archived in
> their original, complete form, so that transhumans who study these
> fossils will be able to see the tones, facial inflections, music,
> lighting--and cultural idiom--contained in them. To deliberately
> abandon English rather than keeping it alive along with whatever
> native transhuman communication we develop would be to smash the
> Rosetta stone, limiting our ability to learn from the past.

Whoa! We aren't talking transhumans here; transhumans would simply
communicate *thought* directly without need for language. Telepathy, in
a word. After all, (your) thought to English to (your friend's)
thought... there's a wasted step here.

Similarly, of course a television show contains information other than
direct semantic content... the synchronization of that language, rhyming
poetry, and so on. So you have one transhuman who understands English,
and then you transmit his thought and poetic admiration and whatever to
the French-speaking transhumans. (Assuming we haven't abandoned
language. And, as always, assuming enhanced humans but no Singularity.)

While if we're dealing with fallible mortals, they might perfectly well
choose to abandon the Rosetta stone in favor of automatic translators.
Why go to all the work of maintaining a language not suited to your
personality, simply so that you can read Shakespeare in the original,
when a mechanical translator can effortlessly make it all so clear?

--       Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.