“Take pleasure in the mid day”: Siri and Google Voice (try to) have a conversation…

… and remind us just how utterly human is language.

Why is language understanding/production so stupendously difficult to inculcate in a machine/software? Consider the various levels:

1) A language’s sound system is never simply a one-to-one mapping from symbol to a set of articulations, because sounds are always affected by their surrounding context too, in all kinds of ways. We’re almost entirely unconscious of this as we speak, but software must explicitly calculate everything. So every form of assimilation, say – whether it be forward-looking (anticipatory coarticulation), or as it were backward-looking (perseverative) – represents an additional syllabic possibility, and as English contains many homophones (though not even nearly as many as, say, Japanese), software has to come up with higher-level criteria in order to select one over another. Leading to:

2) All the intricacies of morphosyntax, which represent a creative capacity fundamentally irreducible to sets of algorithmic procedure.

3) But then, at the same time as a machine is grappling with all of that, it comes up against the semantic component of language, which again is an unthinkably more sophisticated system than a mere cataloguing of potential meanings word-by-word and phrase-by-phrase, involving intricacies within intricacies of nuance – figuration, irony, suggestion, metaphor, and on and on…

4) And even this isn’t the end of a poor machine’s travails, because semantics then shades into the level of language known as pragmatics, which involves everything connected to context (personal, social, cultural), and cohesiveness and reference internal to the entire current discourse – in short, a multitude of different kinds of understanding between people which don’t need to be explicitly expressed.

The end result of all these layers of difficulty?

We quickly go from: “…I expect some degeneration. Human Computer Interactions are prone to error, frustration, and often amusement. Humorous incongruities arise and superiority humor emerges as we take pleasure in the mistakes, misunderstandings, and limitations of software and machines.”

To: “I think that the generation human computer interactions airport to wherever castration in the office at and if you have to call me at either white and Terrier already and we have urgent that we take pleasure in the Patriot understanding on limitations of software and leaking.”

?!?!

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