With higher levels of man-machine interaction becoming commonplace, communication will become increasingly denominated and translated by Mathematics.
Recently I stumbled across a post by a travel blogger on how to say “I love you” in 100 different languages. “我爱你”, “Je t’aime”, “Ti amo”, “사랑해”… so many ways to say the same thing.
But to a computer all of it would be the same.
01101001 00100000 01101100 01101111 01110110 01100101 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101
That’s “I love you” in binary code, the basis of all computer languages. If one computer had to send another a romantic text, it would probably look like this…
Digitized except for alcohol
In the history of mankind, certain inventions were common across all cultures and civilizations, no matter when or where they arose, regardless of how big or small the population— language, art, music, religion and one could possibly argue, alcoholic beverages.
But while their inventions across time and space seemed inevitable, they have manifested in various forms and permutations. Indeed, the necessity to communicate whenever more than one human being co-existed also made languages both a common and necessary invention, yet so varied in its basic constructs.
As a result, throughout history human translation has been necessary to facilitate communication across different cultures. The only universal language, as many engineers and scientists would say, is that of Mathematics.
Numbers and equations, when written down and shown, communicate the exact same thing to all individuals schooled in mathematics regardless of the language they speak. It is the only knowledge that mankind has developed that transcends language barriers when it needs to be communicated. It is also thought of by physicists and mathematicians to contain the code behind the workings of our universe.
Language is divorcing humans and getting engaged to A.I.
Today, language and mathematics are becoming ever closer to that final union that will allow all languages to be automatically converted from one to another using the power of mathematics embedded in computer software. More specifically, in the age of Artificial Intelligence, driven by powerful self-learning algorithms, machine translation is moving closer and closer towards the sci-fi scenario of artificial intelligence that can interact and respond in multiple languages with ease and high accuracy.
To be sure, despite all that has been said about the power of recent breakthroughs in Deep Learning algorithms, A.I. is still quite some distance away from (or perhaps never able to) replace the creative ability of human beings to invent satirical humor, slangs or dialects within languages. For example, although right now A.I. has achieved the ability to imitate Vincent Van Gogh’s painting style, it can probably never invent another school of art like Impressionism and all the abstract meanings that can be drawn from it by human brains.
That said, the fact is, for simple and direct communication most languages can be broken down into definitive structures and vocabulary. These can be analyzed and programmed into algorithms. But what has really changed in recent years is the fact that these algorithms and their parameters are no longer rigid. Modern A.I. can generate computer models for machine translations that are constantly self-improving and adapting to new inputs. This gives it the ability to become not just more accurate, but also able to learn new sentence constructs and vocabulary on its own.
The era of plain and direct speech
In this new world of A.I., machine translation is now able to replace human translators quite well; at least for uncomplicated sentences and non-metaphorical meanings. In any case, to effectively communicate, one doesn’t really need to devise long, convoluted sentences or use abstract euphemisms.
Impressive linguistic ‘acrobatics’ are actually counter-productive in modern communication given the extent of information overload these days. Most of us just want to consume information in the most direct and easy to understand manner possible.
So practically speaking, languages and mathematics are converging into a definitive and binding union in this current moment of mankind’s history. It is a union where mathematics will become the common denominator for recording and representing meaning. That meaning can now be converted and communicated to human users from binary code and algorithms into a large variety of common languages.
Too abstract to grasp? Think of it this way. For example, many people know that the numbers 666 is associated with the devil, or 911 means the police. Numbers can substitute words to convey meanings, even between people of different languages. When machines speak to each other, that’s how it is, everything reduced to numbers and algorithms. It is only to humans that they have to render that output in various languages.
Connected and recorded regardless of language used
IoT is bringing man-machine interaction to a whole new level in terms of pervasiveness, convenience and data collection. But whether Samsung sells its refrigerators, TVs and washing machines to a customer in France, China or Thailand, it will be connected via the Internet and recording inputs from humans in multiple languages, sending it back to its server in binary code, and processing it in a system ran by algorithms.
For the machines that will soon dominate our lives to make them far more comfortable and efficient, whether you say “One big Mac with cheese, large fries and diet coke,” in French, German, Chinese or Japanese, the A.I. waiter serving you hears it in only one common language — mathematics.