Friday, August 04, 2006

Cognitive jetsam

(1) On yesterday's Daily Show, guest Vali Nasr summed up the situation in Lebanon with the following lovely example of a nonce causative manner-of-motion verb, one my fave features of English grammar:
You can't shock-and-awe Hezbollah out of Beirut.

B: With enough computational space, couldn't you implement a natural-selection approach to any programming problem? Just give it a few clues so the stuff will compile, give it a few little algorithms that it can embed or modify, and let the thing string together lines of code, looking for sequences that will do something useful towards a user-defined goal. Take the best ten results from every generation as the starting point for the next, and may the best code win. Maybe people are already doing this? (Thanks to a commenter for pointing me to this link about the progress being made in this area -- it's only a matter of time before humans never have to think again... :) )

III. Maybe pagoda-style roofs are good in rainy climates? Rain wouldn't run along to collect on the corners and erode foundation-threatening holes at the corners of the building, but rather drip with less impact off the length of the eaves?

Δ - Trying to decide on the meaning of a completive aspectual verb, ya'ate, in Hiaki (Yaqui, Yoeme) today, we were looking at the following sentence:

Haivu yukya'atek.
Haivu yuk-ya'ate-k
already rain-ya'ate-perf
"It's already stopped raining."

We had some reason to think that ya'ate means something more like 'finish' than 'stop', but the main verb in the example here, and the translation, of course, made me wonder if it might really be more like 'stop' than 'finish'. I said as much, and someone asked me why -- what's the difference between stop raining and finish raining? Well, I said, let me put it this way: in Newfoundland, where I grew up, it does occasionally stop raining. But it never finishes raining. Har.
[Here's the thing: 'Rain' is usually a pretty good example of an activity verb, rather than an accomplishment like, say 'evaporate'—activities just come to a halt whenever, rather than culminate at a necessary endpoint. The meaning of 'stop' goes with pretty much any verb with a duration, while 'finish' is a bit pickier, preferring to go with a verb that has a natural endpoint built in. With accomplishment predicates you can really see the difference:

The water stopped evaporating ---> still some water left
The water finished evaporating ---> water all gone

He stopped building the house ---> complete house doesn't exist
He finished building the house ---> complete house exists, move on in.

So if ya'ate means something like 'finish', then it might be a little unusual to see it in combination with a non-culminating verb like 'rain', in an apparently episodic context like this. But maybe not; it's not like 'It finished raining' is uninterpretable or even unnatural. Heck, rain here in the southwest really does 'finish' -- the monsoon rains we're having right now will finish in a couple of weeks, and we won't see any more for at least three or four months. We're going to have to get some examples with good accomplishment predicates, and check the entailments.

Let me tell you, figuring this stuff out is fun! I am one lucky linguist.]


Blogger koldito said...

As for the natural selection approach to programming, I remember reading something like that in The Blind Watchmaker (Richard Dawkins). I've forgotten the details, but the essence of the task was discriminating the frequency of an input sound. The evolution of the program was random, but the natural selection was not so much, as it was the researcher himself who picked the best offspring at each generation. This might be a bit of cheating, though, as in real-world natural selection there is no prespecified long-term goal. The bottom line is that it took I think about 4000 generations to get a working program, which in addition had some quirky features that no human programmer would have thought about.

2:27 AM  
Blogger hh said...

hey, you're so right! i'd forgotten about that. must have been percolating along in my subconscious. Wonder what's happened to the project since then?

(I think the only kind of natural selection that could be implemented in this context would have to be user-defined or guided, though. It wouldn't have to be a long-term goal -- desired features could change over time as the user's needs changed, just as in the natural world the environmental conditions change, which alters the selectional pressures on various features of the organism. The parallel with organism competition in the natural would have to break down at some point, since it's not like anybody wants programs which are designed (evolved) to maximize use of computing resources, reproduce the most, etc, like organisms... them's viruses.)

11:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This page might interest you (regarding genetic programming):

Human competetive results.

It's here just to give a little idea about the results that have been reached so far.

9:54 AM  
Blogger hh said...

Thanks, anon! I've put a link to the site above. VERY interesting.

11:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're welcome. As an aside, I saw an interestingly named program at the Microsoft web site the other day. It was called "Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Program" (or Tool, I forget). Just in case you still collect these, and the structural ambiguity (I'm sure you linguists have a better name for it) is somewhat delicious here.

Thanks for the blog. :)

1:49 AM  

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