Language is something we all associate with communication.
Together with all the living and long dead people we used it as the main mean of communication.
The starting point of language is still debatable. Most of the scientists agree it happened somewhere between 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. A spike of complex ways of expression through drawings or tools emerged.
Linguists, philosophers and anthropologists are searching the theory of its evolution. Even not shared among all scientists, some theories are quite intriguing.
Noam Chomsky’s point of view is that language appeared spontaneously . Our genetics have met a new context. Language appears to be first a system of thought used as a system of communication.
A system designed for computational efficiency of own thoughts. Thus sacrificing communication efficiency, as a secondary goal. In other words, designed to use the efficient amount of cognitive power (or energy) to put in words or symbols one own’s thoughts. The remaining energy is to predict the most efficient way to share with others. There are two separate systems within the body handling these two processes.
Communication as a secondary goal in a human interaction will sacrifice the time spend to choose the words.
There is a fine line of equilibrium which if surpassed, the more we communicate the less we understand each-other. Past societies had a certain amount of time to let language “sink-in’ at a collective level. Thus, allowing a majority to find common ground and shared understanding.
A conversation is visualized as a collective game of Tetris. People shape symbols of their thoughts as the falling pieces of the game. The bottom layer is where communication happens.
The thicker the layer the better. But the thickness cannot pass a limit, our cognitive capacity. Now imagine that the speed increase as well as the diversity of shapes. This is what happens today in the world.
In human-machine symbiosis we shape each other. Machines shape ourselves to mimic their communication (the dotted line below). But machines do not have nuances, they exchange 1 and 0. And they work non-stop. Humans have nuances and limited attention and cognition. You can read/hear maybe 2x faster but not more than this. It is a major feature on Youtube or other content platforms. Beyond a fine line, understanding drops logarithmically. As in a modern Tower of Babel reality.
the memetic human-machine relationship in communication
Thoughts have their own agenda. They are trying to survive and merge with other’s mind generated ones (e.g. Daniel Dennett has a nice view here). If organisms want to survive, so do concepts. Both push for an existence, either biological or abstract.
Most of our history, language as we know it brought us all such great achievements. It looks counter intuitive to question its powers and talk about its limitations. It is a very powerful dogma.
If you look at language as a tool to help us be more efficient in communication, things might change. There is a possibility that sooner or later language could cease being so efficient. Could become as evasive as today’s communication through art. Without the aesthetics and beauty which comes along. Instead will carry increased ambiguity.
This challenge is not new topic and people with time and resources try to solve it as we speak.
Large corporate budgets are spent to align broad communication within internal teams. Or aligning deep semantics and terms within management and outside partners or consultants . Here is an article of such a consultant trying recently to solve the second problem. IATA (International Air Transport Association) spend enormous resources to train and develop an in-house method to limit the errors coming with natural language. It succeeded but the solution applies to one language (English) and addresses a niched sector of communication (aviation). It took years of training but it payed off. As a pilot, you don’t want to be miss-understood by an air traffic officer or vice-versa. Or as a passenger. While in the air.
Still, there are big challenges with current approaches. People rarely check out the efficiency of the communication. We assume when you say something and no one argues back, that it is 100% understood. It varies a lot with topics/people/etc but if I would have to ballpark, I would say it’s less than 50% and dropping. Quality of communication is a % of shared knowledge per unit of time. Bellow a level, the more we speak, the more we drop the quality in a death-communication spiral. It happened in history many times at civilizational level.
On an individual global scale it is almost impossible to handle the challenge. Here is why.
First, it requires the existence of some external structure supporting and compensating the inherent inefficiencies in communication. A big corporation or IATA may overcome this problems with an increasing time/resources budget. People do not have this option.
Secondly, this problem is evolving in the sense that as the quantity and diversity of information expands. Human knowledge expands fast. And so should be the budget/time to cover it. Should be designed to grow exponentially. People do not have neither infinite time nor budget.
Third and the most important weakness is that it only works in closed systems. Like thoughts within our heads. Human communication is a two way street. If only solved one way, you did not solved the problem, you may as well amplify it. You only have a relatively (small) power of change over your own internal thoughts, let alone the external ones. This is why top-down (brain centered) solutions like Neuralink, in my mind are designated to handle just part of the problem. A bottom up solution has to emerge also.
Today you can do one of the following:
(1) Isolate yourself in a closed community (as IATA which acts as a close one objective utilitarian company).
2) Limit the inflow of information. (e.g. in business take a look at any customer service today: they limit the inflow because they cannot handle) or e.g. politically ( censorship and freedom of speech talks).
(3) Try to impose or manipulate your own way of understanding. This is from a position of force. Manipulation or propaganda in democracy. Force in dictatorships.
All the above solutions will put us sooner or later outside of the game in an evolutionary designed life. No freedom degree is weakening as system.
The effects of poor communication are all over the place today. From world wars to domestic fights. Anxieties and depressions or simple day-by-day small misunderstandings without (still) aggregated consequences.
I would dare to say communication is the underlying problem of all our deep fears. From nuclear wars to environmental issues to AI takeover.We are all, as in the IATA system, in the air right now.
How a feasible option will look like?
To solve the two way street of communication at scale in a short period of time, the human ability should be somehow already there. Embedded within ourselves as it was in the case of language. You take a child from deep Malaysian jungles and move him/her to New York and his/she is capable to learn speaking instantly. (by the way, this was done and it is an argument of why our capacity to speak language didn’t evolved at human scale).
Technology can help but should be universally available. Requiring no external support such as an organigram of people. Dropping marginal costs. Ideally with a foreseeable cost cap. Language is a good example: it is a universal ability with mass adoption (>85% world literacy). It has low costs: limited hours of people around (family could do it).
Should be able to co-exist with all the other existing forms of communication. The evolutionary process is arborescent.
Here is an idea.
Humans are in a constant flow of communication. Our hearts act as body’s internal chief communication officer, among other things. As we are entering the post-intelligence design era, why not put our hearts in charge of our communication and move to the observer side for a while.
At Adiem, we use a suite of multi sensory companions to enlighten human-to-human communication from the deeper level of the heart. Imagine we are all semi blind and deaf and we have to learn a new braille or sign language with more nuances. With all available tech around.
We take people’s heartbeats while communicating and make them visible as colors. Or hearable as sounds. Or feel them on your wrist through the haptic engine of the Apple Watch. All through a form of communication we called Synerative art .
Heart as an organic Teacher of communication.
As if when watching a movie you see the subtitles in an unknown language. After a certain time, our inborn Neuroplasticity learns to associate previously unrelated stimuluses. And suddenly you speak Spanish :).
Backed by science, we already observed some patterns and we know few things by now. Observing the heart beats:
(1) When alone, we know how open we are to listen others. We call this Empathy. It is a measure derived from the variability of distances between the heartbeats (measured in milliseconds)
(2) When in a group, by analyzing multiple heartbeats interactions we can measure the level of Resonance. Or how well we understand each other. It is a collective sign representing the quality of communication.
It is not much but it is something.
We, as Humans are still in the air.