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What are Bob and Alice saying? Linguistic miscommunication between human language and computational code

What are Bob and Alice saying? Linguistic miscommunication between human language and computational code

Lammin, Hannah ORCID: 0000-0002-9752-9335 (2019) What are Bob and Alice saying? Linguistic miscommunication between human language and computational code. In: Barker, Timothy and Koralkova, Maria, (eds.) Miscommunication: Errors, Mistakes, and the Media. Thinking Media . Bloomsbury Academic. (In Press)

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Ordinary language is increasingly being used as a means of communication between humans and computers. The growing sophistication of natural language processing systems, used by chatbots and intelligent personal assistants, enables an intuitive interface which renders the inner workings of computational devices opaque and encourages us to treat computational devices as humanlike entities. However, the translation of language into code can also produce errors which puncture this smooth surface, drawing attention to the different logic operating inside the black box.

This chapter uses the story of ‘Bob’ and ‘Alice’, a pair of chatbots developed by Facebook which were shut down in 2017 because they started conversing in a language that their creators did not understand, as an occasion to examine the constitution of linguistic sense and to question the presupposition—which has endured in philosophical thought from Aristotle through Heidegger and beyond—that language is an essentially human endeavour.

An excavation of the historical development of code demonstrates that it is fundamentally imbricated with language, thereby complicating a clear distinction between human and machinic ways of encoding the world (Kittler, 2008; Cramer, 2005). Nevertheless, speech, writing and code can each be seen to operate according to different discursive regimes that constitute distinct ‘worldviews’ (Hayles, 2005). The essay will examine Bob and Alice’s idiosyncratic linguistic behaviour from the perspective of these worldviews, in order to explore how ‘redundancy’ is deployed differently in each discursive context. This will be illustrated by comparing the bots’ use of language with discussions of noise music, Dada poetry, and high-frequency trading (Canini, 2015; Hayles, 2017). Placing Bob and Alice’s output in this broader context enables us to conceive the subject of language in non-humanistic terms, and to re-conceive their miscommunication not as an error, but as a creative act.

Item Type: Book Section
Uncontrolled Keywords: language, artificial intelligence, chatbots, code, media archaeology, noise, intermediation
Subjects: P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
Faculty / Department / Research Group: Faculty of Architecture, Computing & Humanities
Faculty of Architecture, Computing & Humanities > Department of Creative Professions & Digital Arts
Last Modified: 20 Aug 2019 15:30
Selected for GREAT 2016: None
Selected for GREAT 2017: None
Selected for GREAT 2018: None
Selected for GREAT 2019: None

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