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The Death of Language: How our AI technology is fast becoming our undoing. Or is it?


Photo by Hannah Wei on Unsplash

Language may become obsolete as we mentally morph into a world of brain-created visual “language;” a world without words. Psychologists already knew that when we can’t give voice to our thoughts and emotions, the body “speaks” for us. The concept is called alexithymia.


Utilizing our brains to control devices is not as futuristic as we once thought. Software-brain interactive devices are already available. Stephen Hawking, the scientist with ALS, who was almost completely paralyzed, has already provided the prime example of how useful this technology can be.


But what about brain-to-brain communication? Is this possible? After all, each of our brains may have its own complex “language.” Our individualized language may not mesh well with someone else’s — unless we develop a universal visual brain language. Computer interfaces have shown, however, it is possible to utilize B2B (brain-to-brain) communication over great distances as researchers had demonstrated in 2014.


Our results provide a critical proof-of-principle demonstration for the development of conscious B2B communication technologies. More fully developed, related implementations will open new research venues in cognitive, social and clinical neuroscience and the scientific study of consciousness.”

Brain imaging began to rely on newer models of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and AI. These models replace language as one means of visual interactions instead of verbal communication. The one stumbling block was the magnets which had to be reconceptualized into designs that provided the needed higher resolution.


Could our brains transmit a type of image radio waves to other persons? Possibilities in science, engineering and neuromorphing open vistas previously touched by a few creative thinkers. The world of “Star Trek” and the Vulcan Mind-Meld may be in our future with new technology being closer than we think.


Slipping away from the verbal


The new communication will be free of restrictions imposed by our language lexicons and produce creations that were in the realm of science fiction formerly. How will we forge ahead on this path, and what will it mean in terms of cultural mores and accepted norms?


Are we taking the first steps now in our excessive use of digital technology as opposed to face-to-face or speech-generated interactions? Texting is slowly eroding our verbal communications and social connections as we deceive ourselves into thinking we are super-connected. The relationships are more superficial and less content-heavy. The word “friend” no longer means someone with whom we physically connect at some time, if ever.


Once the cell phone came into widespread use and was a device of “necessity” for younger populations, its place in our world culture was solidified. A Pew Research Center study found that the vast majority of Americans, 96%, now own cell phones. Ninety-nine percent of those in the 18 to 49 age category have a cell phone, and 96% of those in the 18 to 29 age group have a smartphone.


One hundred percent of persons making over $75,000 a year are owners of cell phones, and 95% of them have a smartphone. There is little difference between urban or rural populations, with the percentage of cell phone ownership being 97–95%.


Three-quarters of US adults own a laptop or a desktop computer, and half of them, in the 2019 survey, also owned a tablet and an e-reader. The death knell of the hard-wired phone was heard around the world. Cell phones have outpaced or replaced the phones of prior years and have increased in their features and ease of use with interconnected devices.


Images and immediacy


If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the future is in images rather than verbal communication. But are smartphones making us dumber as one Australian study suggested? Aren’t they also pushing us toward this non-verbal culture as we watch or interact with videos and texts? We may find ourselves in a world that is vexing in the extreme as we fail to flex those verbal cranial “muscles.” Will language sophistication become passe?


If we have been dumbed down by the use of technology and the ease of Googling information with minimal critical thinking, can we take advantage of the“cognitive surplus” suggested by Sharky? Nine years out from his talk, the generous, sharing world he foresaw may be shaking from political pressures that seek to control digital connectivity. Sharky’s utopia, thus far, has not been realized with its one trillion hours of surplus available to all of us to use for the benefit of everyone.


Unquestionably, the order of the day is immediacy and visuals lead the way. We may find quiet contemplation uncomfortable. As a result of this discomfort, we think children require therapy balls or shaky seats for their classrooms.


The need for movement has been viewed as indicating psychological disorders or the effect of video games. No one waits, and quickness of response is paramount, especially in video games. The games, however, have been unjustly vilified in the media as leading to inattention and over-stimulation of children.


But, video games, whether at home or in school, have been found to stimulate the brain, increase attention, vision and problem-solving skills. The belief that playing these games is detrimental to a child’s development is false and an untenable urban myth.


Visual focus, as in video games, enhances the ability to switch the speed with which a person can change attention from one set of objects and tasks to other objects and tasks. If multi-tasking is an advanced skill of necessity, video games may be the means of developing it.


Reasonable skepticism exists regarding AI technology, however. Research is now suggesting that the use of these digital devices is rewiring our brains. “The current explosion of digital technology not only is changing the way we live and communicate but is rapidly and profoundly altering our brains.” But the question as to what this “rewiring” brings with it remains unanswered.


The prediction was made almost a decade ago. We have to wonder how much more our brains have been rewired since then. Has an “addiction” to smartphones occurred as a result? They do provide a distraction from our daily routines and can encourage continued use via the dopamine rush they stimulate. If life doesn’t present an opportunity to succeed, a cell may do it as Candy Crush did.


Enter brain-visual connectivity


The human brain performs trillions of actions within minutes, and we know nothing about them. “Although it is impossible to precisely calculate, it is postulated that the human brain operates at 1 exaFLOP, which is equivalent to a billion billion calculations per second.”


Unquestionably, not all of these actions are aimed at body maintenance. A portion of that brainpower could be used to engage in new feats such as film production, as suggested by Mary Lou Jepsen.


Jepsen’s brain research incorporates AI visualization training which is projected to a device. The technology, theoretically, could either display the brain-produced film or prepare the entire film storyboard and production schedule. The director would visualize the whole film and then provide the “product” to the computer for completion.


On another tack, what if someone were able to read our visual brain productions? We don’t think in terms of words or scripts, do we? Don’t we run scenarios in our mind before we do or say something? Our intentions, produced in visualization, would provide almost instantaneous connection. Words and the production of sentences would be superfluous.


Designs also come into the equation. Any design could be developed on the spot and then moved about in a three-dimensional model in our minds. The model would then be provided to a unit that could produce prototypes within minutes. In effect, we would be transforming our brains into supercomputer imaging devices. They are, in fact, already supercomputers without our knowing how to tap into their power. But AI may prove to be the pathway we seek.


The imagination of creative molecular combinations could advance research into drugs. Yes, computers have programs such as this now, but the brain is still far superior in its speed and heat doesn’t seem to be a problem. Surgeries or medical procedures could be devised and “graded” by clinical staff, also within minutes of their production. Tree decimation would become a thing of the past. Environmentalists would love the breakthrough.


Risk and its consideration


Any technology that involves human-machine or human-human interactions, such as the brain-machine interface evolving from Elon Musk’s lab, via new AI technology must be monitored. And there is a group actively engaged in this effort.


An all-volunteer organization located in the Boston, MA area, The Future of Life Institute’s mission is to: “catalyze and support research and initiatives for safeguarding life and developing optimistic visions of the future, including positive ways for humanity to steer its own course considering new technologies and challenges.”


The pathways are emerging as AI leads the way into ever more elaborate creations of mind and machine working in concert.

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DR. PATRICIA A. FARRELL