The Speed of Language

As I drifted off to sleep the other night I found myself reminded of Yakko Warner’s attempt to sing all the words in the English language.

So how long would it take to actually sing all the words in the English language? Well, there is no definitive number of words in the English language, it is somewhere between 500,000 and 2 million once you include regional and specialist words.

So let’s go for 1.2 million as a sustainable compromise figure. So if it takes an average of 1 second per word, singing 1.2 million nonstop would take about 14 days.

So you, or more likely a robot, could reach the end of the English language in 14 days. But would you? Or are new words created so fast that you would never reach the end?

What is the speed of language? I have a mental picture of a little car, driven of course by a bear, speeding down a road made up of words at 1 word per second. Does the bear ever reach the end?

What speed does the bear need to travel at to reach the end? How vast would the language be to require the bear to drive at the speed of light?

And which is the fastest language?

These are the things which occupy my mind as I fall asleep. Pity me.

The Slow Thoughts of the Machine God

In true purple lorry style the Singularity seems to have been everywhere recently. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, the Singularity starts from the simple observation that whereas machines double in processing power every 18 months we humans are as smart/dumb as we are ever going to get. So if you draw two lines – one for machine “intelligence” and one for us humans  and our level of intelligence then they will cross at some point, at which time the Singularity will occur and we humans will no longer be the most intelligent lifeform on the planet.

What happens postSingularity tends to depend on whether you are a Extropian optimist who sees it as the first step on a rapid ascent to the noosphere or a techno pessimist who regards it as proof that the Terminator series was science fact, not fiction.

If you are me then you wonder if intelligence is just a question of speed. Is it like the sound barrier? Is there a point at which the hamsters on the spinning wheel inside the machine accelerate and pass through the intelligence barrier and suddenly the machine is sentient?

If not, then what is the singularity?

And if it is just a matter of speed and there is no intelligence barrier then any universal Turing machine must be considered sentient. Slow, yes, but still as “intelligent” as its faster kin.

So that means that Sinclair Spectrum you had as a kid was capable of “intelligence”, if only the software had been available. Each thought may have taken a week, the firing of the virtual synapses might have been more like the rising and setting of the sun. But, it is still a computer and thus still capable of “thought”.

So, should we consider all computers as prospective sentients? This is a matter we need to fully and carefully consider before we add to the number of computers in the world as they may be our rivals or future masters.

And that is why, oh Management Board, you are not getting the new iPhone.