Computer program reconstructs dead languages

medieval-language-flickr-mortsan

A computer program might help us reconstruct the roots of our languages (called protolanguages), according to a study by a group of researchers from California and Canada. Linguists have been going over different languages with a fine-tooth comb in an effort to piece together puzzles and be able to determine the protolanguages from which modern day languages have evolved, but it’s an arduous task that will take us ages. “It would take hundreds of lifetimes to pore over all those languages, cross-referencing all the different changes that happened across such an expanse of space – and of time,” UC Berkeley associate professor Dan Klein told the BBC. “This is where computers shine,” he added. 

The researchers tested the program by feeding it 142,000 words from 637 languages currently spoken around Asia and the Pacific. The program generated a protolanguage scientists believe was spoken in the region roughly 7,000 years ago. Since this was something the researchers knew beforehand, they were able to asses the program’s accuracy. According to the researchers, over 85 percent of the words reconstructed by the computer program were only one character off from the words reconstructed by an expert in Austronesian languages (a language family spread throughout the islands of Southeast Asia and the Pacific).

The reconstruction of protolanguages involves identifying patterns in similar words that have variations in the way they’re pronounced. According to Klein, “the trick is to identify these patterns of change and then to ‘reverse’ them, basically evolving words backwards in time.” As the program has yet to reach 100 percent accuracy, it serves only as a tool to speed up the process by helping linguists. It will not replace them. By digging into the language of our ancestors, we can also know more about their era they lived in, and understand the world’s history a lot more clearly. Time’s Techland blog interviewed Alex Bouchard-Côté, one of the researchers, who said: “If you can figure out if the language of the settling population had a word for wheel, then you can get some idea of the order in which things occurred, because you would have some records that show you when the wheel was invented.”

Image via Morten Oddvik

Emerging Tech

A.I.-powered website creates freakishly lifelike faces of people who don’t exist

No, this isn't a picture of a missing person. It's a face generated by a new artificial intelligence on the website ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com. Here's how the impressive A.I. works.
Gaming

Here's our Champion's guide to picking the best character in Apex Legends

Apex Legends' use of heroes with different abilities helps separate it from other battle royale games. To help you choose your legend, we've put together a legend guide detailing their abilities, strengths, and weaknesses.
Home Theater

Cutting the cord? Let us help you find the best service for live TV streaming

There's a long list of live TV streaming services available to help you cut the cord and replace your traditional TV subscription. Each is different in important ways, and this guide will help you find the best one for you.
Computing

Blockchain does way more than power Bitcoin. Here's how it works

What is a blockchain? It was once merely an academic idea and today it's the backbone of the cryptographic industry, helping to send billions of dollars worth of digital assets all over the world.
Cars

Keep your driving record squeaky clean with these top-flight radar detectors

Nobody likes getting a speeding ticket, but these gadgets can help. Check out our picks for the best radar detectors on the market, from the likes of Valentine One, Escort, and Beltronics.
Deals

The best Presidents’ Day sales 2019: Amazon, Walmart, Dell, and more

Presidents' Day sales are a great chance to score electronics, clothing, home and office stuff, and other goodies at a discount. We’ve smoked out a large handful of the best of these Presidents' Day deals, from tech to bedding, to help…
Computing

In the age of Alexa and Siri, Cortana’s halo has grown dim

In a sea of voice assistants, Cortana has become almost irrelevant. The nearly five-year-old voice assistant is seeing little love from consumers, and here’s why it is dead.
Deals

Keep your MacBook safe and dry with an Under Armour backpack for under $50

Under Armour is having a huge sale this weekend to help you on your quest for a better backpack. The UA Outlet Exclusive sale is going on now through Monday, February 18th, offering great discounts on stormproof backpacks.
Deals

Walmart Presidents’ Day sale: Instant Pot, Google Home, and 4K TV deals

Presidents' Day weekend is one of the best times of the year to find deep discounts on 4K TVs, laptops, Instant Pots, clothes, mattresses, and furniture. And Walmart is offering deals on all of those things and more.
Computing

The HoloLens 2 will be announced at MWC. Here's what we know about it so far

The HoloLens 2 is ripe for an announcement. Here's what Microsoft has revealed so far, what's likely in store for the next generation HoloLens, and everything that we know about this mixed reality headset.
Computing

Don't know what to do with all your old DVDs? Here's how to convert them to MP4

Given today's rapid technological advancements, physical discs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Check out our guide on how to convert a DVD to MP4, so you can ditch discs for digital files.
Computing

Wi-Fi helps connect all of our devices at high-speed, but what exactly is it?

What is Wi-Fi? It's a technology we all use everyday to connect all of our portable devices, but understanding how it works and how far it's come from its humble beginnings is another thing entirely.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Web

Are you one of the billions who have watched these super-popular YouTube videos?

Viral videos can quickly garner millions upon millions of views, but even they fall well behind the view counts on the most watched YouTube videos ever. Those have been watched billions of times.