To Be a Linguist

Today was a major day for learning about linguisticky things. Unfortunately, though, I’m tired of typing about lectures so these are going to be kept really really short.

Motor intelligence in machines and animals
D. E. Koditscheck
Spacial memory is thought to be held in the hippocampus. We watched a bunch of robots climbing walls using technology that mimics the physiology of gecko feet (layers upon layers upon layers of folds inside folds that allow them to use London dispersion forces to stick to surfaces even if they are smooth at the macroscopic level). The current trend in robotics is the development of proprioception, so that robots know how they’re ‘feeling’ and how it relates to their environment, and how they can use that to their advantage. We learned that most robotics research money comes from the military, so they can’t always do the kind of research they want to do (unless it aligns with the military’s goals).

Recognizing emotions in speech and text
Ann Nenkova

Dr. Nenkova’s area of specialty is emotional intelligence. She wants to help solve the problem of automated telephone systems not being helpful to customerss. Her research is pertinent for care navigation systems, call centers, and computer assisted tutoring systems. There are a lot of things that have to be taken into account when computing emotion, like hesitation, tone, speed, etc. The tools she’s using to develop a lot of her data are social media and user-generated content analyses. She also wants to apply her research to people that have medical conditions that affect the way they talk and express their internal states. She would like to develop a system that consistently rates patients using models from many doctors to sort of integrate that information as a way of concretely describing the state of a given patient. Apparently she’s using twitter hashtags to see what words are more often used by people describing themselves in whatever emotional state. For instance:
Just got a coke zero. Hurray. #happy
It’s a stupid example but that’s the gist of it. One of the problems that needs to be figured out is which element of speech can best predict the emotional state of a patient. She’s making some headway.

After our lectures, we essentially had a free afternoon, except that Ivy, Jose, Ashley, Rachel, and I were to be following Joe around the sociolinguistics lab. It is only now that I realize who was in the lab and the amazing man we got to meet; William Labov. I’ve actually been taught Labovian theories of linguistics and I think had I realized who I was meeting I may have exploded. We explored the lab and Joe explained the work he was doing to us. There’s a huge closet of recordings that have been taken from people around the country in various years, ranging from people born in 1888 to 1980something. Each recording from Philadelphia is being taken by Joe to be digitized, scripted, analyzed, and then fragmented for analysis of the vowel sounds. Afterward, he charts on a graph using spectrographs where the vowels are being articulated in the mouth, and tracking the movement of all those vowels to measure sound change over a long period.

After dinner we held a discussion about ethics regarding the advancement of cognitive sciences and their effects on medical procedure and stuff. One of the major problems we discussed was wheteher it would be ethical to use technology to increase brain functions in school students or in other cases, because the procedure might be considered analogous to illicit drug use. However, the discussion quickly turned to a question of whether people are responsible for their actions, and then developed into a massive discussion on the possibility of the existence of free will. I have a really radical view on free will, so I spent most of our time explaining myself. The gist of my view is this: the universe is never random, and at the most basic level there is no randomness. Because of that, any layer of complexity above the most basic fabric of the universe will inherently not be random. Subsequently, cognitive processes are a derivative of physically measurable reactions in the brain, and since that complexity is not random, it cannot be changed by ‘will,’ so I do not believe in free will. It’s not something I can say with 100% certainty obviously, but that’s how I think about the universe. Huzzah.

That night we played mafia and then I went to sleep. 


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