Watching a news item about a movie being made in an indigenous setting using indigenous actors speaking the language of their past ancestors. The actors all had to get a language boot camp and still learn how to pronounce the words from the script because none of them speak it. Only about 12 people in the world still speak it – they are all elders and those factors make resurrecting the language extra complicated.
I’ve seen this with other languages at other times – once the speakers are dead and gone the language is likely gone as well.
Even if some lingual genius were to learn these languages that would stave off extinction by one lifetime.
But what if an Artificial Intelligence were to take on the role of learning and using a dying language?
An AI might be able to acquire a new spoken language faster than the average human. And, potentially, it is more easily deploy-able to different places in the world at the same time.
If the AI was able to converse in the new language then that would mean that even after the last native speaker of that language had died there would still be ‘some-one/thing’ that researchers, teachers, students and the curious could converse with. And being able to hold conversations with someone is much better than the instead. Instead of just consuming media and mimicking content.
If this doesn’t already exist it will be possible anytime now. I’m writing this in the fall of 2017 and in the not so distant past a change took place that accelerated machine learning of human language (deep learning and sequence-to-sequence learning). You can read more about that in this article in a series over at medium.com.
That article is about languages that have a written form – not all do. I am not a linguist but I suspect that many human languages have been spoken only. So an easily used interface that an elderly, computer agnostic / illiterate, individual could operate would be ideal. Possibly a human-like robot designed styled to be non-threatening, say with a child-like size and appearance. That would help create the right psychological (and possibly emotional) mental state in the elderly person ‘teaching’ the bot their language. It leads them into a parental or grand parent role which might help get their emotional ‘buy in’ of the process. One could say that the little bot is standing in for all the children in the future who might learn the language being passed down.
It’s a shame when a culture or language disappears from the world of man. It’s as if the efforts of all those who contributed to its development over the decades and centuries were ultimately lost to time. And the real shame is it doesn’t have to be that way.