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Researchers Craft Robot That Learns Our Language

In order to better understand how babies move from squealing bundles of joy to toddlers with the ability to form sentences, British researchers have created a robot capable of learning the English language. Skynet is here and it’s a gender neutral robot of three feet.

The robot — which they’ve named DeeChee — can produce any syllable in the English language. At default setting, however, it doesn’t understand how any of these things fit together in a typical sentence or what they refer to outside of just being a sound. Much like your typical baby.

What it does understand is “good” and “well done” and other words of encouragement. As DeeChee babbles and its human conversation partner gives praise, it stores sounds that are repeated and then tries to spit them back out at appropriate times. The key is the repetition, of course, which has long been the prevalent thought.

But why then aren’t words like “to” and “and” and “the” easy for kids to come by considering how often we utter them from day to day? Catherine Lyon, the study leader, suggests that these connective words are more versatile and harder to pin down. Words like “red” or “car” have fewer contextual uses and are therefore easier for toddlers to grasp.

Now to wait for the first videos of them teaching DeeChee to curse like a sailor. It’s clearly only a matter of time. If they didn’t, it would obviously be a missed opportunity of tremendous import. How else will we learn how babies learn to curse?

(via Phys.Org, image credit via annethelibrarian)

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