Noam Chomsky: Language, Cognition, and Deep Learning | Artificial Intelligence (AI) Podcast
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Noam Chomsky: Language, Cognition, and Deep Learning | Artificial Intelligence (AI) Podcast

– The following is a
conversation with Noam Chomsky. He’s truly one of the
great minds of our time and is one of the most cited scholars in the history of our civilization. He has spent over 60 years at MIT and recently also joined
the University of Arizona where we met for this conversation, but it was at MIT about
four and 1/2 years ago when I first met Noam. My first few days there I remember getting into an elevator at Stata Center, pressing the button for
whatever floor, looking up and realizing it was
just me and Noam Chomsky riding the elevator, just me
and one of the seminal figures of linguistics, cognitive
science, philosophy, and political thought in the
past century if not ever. I tell that silly story
because I think life is made up of funny
little defining moments that you never forget for
reasons that may be too poetic to try and explain, that was one of mine. Noam has been an inspiration
to me and millions of others. It was truly an honor for me to sit down with him in Arizona. I traveled there just
for this conversation, and in a rare, heartbreaking moment after everything was set up and tested the camera was moved and accidentally the recording button was
pressed stopping the recording. So I have good audio of both
of us but no video of Noam, just a video of me and my
sleep deprived but excited face that I get to keep as a
reminder of my failures. Most people just listen
to this audio version for the podcast as opposed
to watching it on YouTube, but still it’s heartbreaking for me. I hope you understand and still enjoy this
conversation as much as I did. The depth of intellect that Noam showed and his willingness to truly listen to me, a silly looking Russian
in a suit was humbling and something I’m deeply grateful for. As some of you know, this
podcast is a side project for me where my main journey and dream is to build AI systems that
do some good for the world. This latter effort
takes up most of my time but for the moment has
been mostly private, but the former, the podcast
is something I put my heart and soul into and I hope you feel that even when I screw things up. I recently started doing ads at the end of the introduction. I’ll do one or two minutes
after introducing the episode and never any ads in the middle that break the flow of the conversation. I hope that works for you and doesn’t hurt the listening experience. This is the Artificial
Intelligence podcast. If you enjoy it, subscribe on YouTube, give it five stars on Apple Podcast, support it on Patreon, or simply
contact with me on Twitter @lexfridman spelled F-R-I-D-M-A-N. This show is presented by Cash App, the number one finance
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inspire girls and boys to dream of engineering a better world. And now here’s my conversation
with Noam Chomsky. I apologize for the absurd
philosophical question, but if an alien species
were to visit Earth, do you think we would be able
to find a common language or protocol of communication with them? – [Noam] There are arguments
to the effect that we could. In fact, one of them was Marv Minsky’s. Back about 20 or 30 years ago he performed a brief experiment with a
student of his, Daniel Bobrow they essentially ran the
simplest possible Turing machines just free to see what would happen. And most of them crashed,
either got into an infinite loop or were stopped, the few that persisted essentially gave
something like arithmetic. And his conclusion from that was that if some alien species
developed higher intelligence they would at least have arithmetic. They would at least have what
the simplest computer would do and in fact he didn’t
know that at the time, but the core principles
of natural language are based on operations
which yield something like arithmetic in the limiting
case, in the minimal case. So it’s conceivable that
a mode of communication could be established based
on the core properties of human language and the
core properties of arithmetic which maybe are universally
shared so it’s conceivable. – [Lex] What is the
structure of that language, of language as an internal
system inside our mind versus an external
system as it’s expressed? – [Noam] It’s not an alternative. It’s two different concepts of language. – [Lex] Different. – [Noam] It’s a simple fact that there’s something
about you, a trait of yours, part of the organism you that determines that you’re talking English
and not Tagalog, let’s say. So there is an inner system. It determines the sound and meaning of the infinite number of
expressions of your language. It’s localized, it’s not in your foot obviously it’s in your brain. If you look more closely it’s
in specific configurations of your brain and that’s essentially like the internal
structure of your laptop. Whatever programs it has are in there. Now, one of the things
you can do with language, it’s a marginal thing in
fact is use it to externalize what’s in your head. I think most of your use
of language is thought, internal thought, but can do
what you and I are now doing. We can externalize it. Well, the set of things
that we’re externalizing are an external system, they’re
noises in the atmosphere, and you can call that language in some other sense of the word, but it’s not a set of alternatives. These are just different concepts. – [Lex] So how deep do the roots of language go in our brain? – Well–
– Our mind, is it yet another feature like vision? Or is it something more fundamental from which everything else
springs in the human mind? – [Noam] Well in a way it’s like vision. There’s something about
our genetic endowment that determines that we have a mammalian rather than an insect visual system. And there’s something
in our genetic endowment that determines that we have
a human language faculty. No other organism has
anything remotely similar. So in that sense it’s internal. Now, there is a long tradition
which I think is valid going back centuries to the
early scientific revolution at least that holds that language is the sort of the core of
human cognitive nature. It’s the source, it’s the
mode for constructing thoughts and expressing them and
that is what forms thought and it’s got fundamental
creative capacities. It’s free, independent,
unbounded and so on. And undoubtedly I think the basis for our creative capacities
and the other remarkable human capacities that lead
to the unique achievements and not so great
achievements of the species. – [Lex] The capacity to think and reason. Do you think that’s deeply
linked with language? Do you think the internal
language system is essentially the mechanism by which we
also reason internally? – [Noam] It is undoubtedly the
mechanism by which we reason. There may also be other,
there are undoubtedly other faculties involved in reasoning. We have a kind of scientific faculty. Nobody knows what it
is, but whatever it is that enables us to pursue
certain lines of endeavor and inquiry and to decide what makes sense and doesn’t make sense and
to achieve a certain degree of understanding in the
world that uses language but goes beyond it just as using
our capacity for arithmetic is not the same as having the capacity. – [Lex] The idea of capacity,
our biology, evolution, you’ve talked about it defining
essentially our capacity, our limit and our scope. Can you try to define
what limit and scope are, and the bigger question,
do you think it’s possible to find the limit of human cognition? – [Noam] Well that’s an
interesting question. It’s commonly believed,
most scientists believe that human intelligence can answer any question in principle. I think that’s a very strange belief. If we’re biological organisms
which are not angels then our capacities ought
to have scope and limits which are interrelated. – [Lex] Can you define those two terms? – [Noam] Well, let’s
take a concrete example. Your genetic endowment, it determines that you can have a
mammalian visual system and arms and legs and so on and therefore become a
rich, complex organism, but if you look at that
same genetic endowment it prevents you from
developing in other directions. There’s no kind of experience
which would yield the embryo to develop an insect visual system or to develop wings instead of arms. So the very endowment that
confers richness and complexity also sets bounds on what can be attained. Now I assume that our cognitive capacities are part of the organic world therefore they should
have the same properties. If they had no built-in
capacity to develop a rich and complex structure we
would understand nothing just as if your genetic endowment did not compel you to
develop arms and legs you would just be some kind
of a random ameboid creature with no structure at all
so I think it’s plausible to assume that there are limits, and I think we even have some
evidence as to what they are. So for example there’s a classic moment in the history of science
at the time of Newton. There was from Galileo to
Newton modern science developed on a fundamental assumption
which Newton also accepted, namely that the world, the entire universe is a mechanical object and
by mechanical they meant something like the kinds of artifacts that were being developed
by skilled artisans all over Europe, the
gears, levers, and so on. And their belief was, well the world is just a more complex variant of this. Newton to his astonishment
and distress proved that there are no machines, that there’s
interaction without contact. His contemporaries like
Leibniz and Huygens just dismissed this as
returning to the mysticism of the Neo-Scholastics and Newton agreed. He said, “It is totally absurd. “No person of any scientific intelligence “could ever accept this for a moment.” In fact, he spent the rest of his life trying to get around it somehow as did many other scientists. That was the very criterion
of intelligibility for say Galileo or Newton. Theory did not produce
an intelligible world unless you could duplicate it in a machine and he showed you can’t,
there are no machines, any. Finally after a long
struggle, took a long time scientists just accepted
this as common sense, but that’s a significant moment. That means they abandoned the search for an intelligible world
and the great philosophers of the time understood that very well. So for example, David Hume
in his encomium to Newton wrote that, who was the
greatest thinker ever and so on. He said that he unveiled
many of the secrets of nature but by showing the imperfections of the mechanical philosophy,
mechanical science he left us wit 500 Internal Server Error

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