Computer program reconstructs dead languages


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

Groundbreaking A.I. can synthesize speech based on a person’s brain activity

Researchers from The University of California, San Francisco have developed a way to use artificial intelligence to turn brain signals into spoken words. It could one day be used to help people who are unable to speak.
Smart Home

The best washing machines make laundry day a little less of a chore

It takes a special kind of person to love doing laundry, but the right machine can help make this chore a little easier. Check out our picks for the best washing machines on the market right now.

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.
Movies & TV

Netflix vs. Hulu: Which streaming service is right for you?

Netflix and Hulu are two of the biggest names in streaming entertainment. Our guide will help you decide which streaming service has the content you want and the best value for your limited budget.

Tablet or notebook? Our favorite 2-in-1 PCs give you the best of both worlds

If you can’t decide if you need a tablet or a notebook, then don’t bother. The best 2-in-1 laptops are both, and they can provide all the power you need. Check out our list for the best 2-in-1s for any user.

Amal and George Clooney want to change the world. Can Microsoft help?

Microsoft and The Clooney Foundation for Justice (CFJ) unveiled the TrialWatch app Thursday morning, a new tool in CFJ’s ongoing TrialWatch effort to shine a light on injustice in courts around the globe – which too often are simply…

Luminar Accent A.I. can now recognize faces for more natural instant edits

Want to edit faster? Skylum Luminar's latest update enhances the Accent A.I. to use machine learning for instant enhancements. The tool now recognizes faces for more natural skin tones along with other enhancements.

These are the best 13-inch laptops you can buy right now

With so much choice out there, how do you know which are the best 13-inch laptops? They should have beautiful screens, long battery life, and remain light and portable. This is a list of our favorites.

These gaming monitors will transport you to another dimension

What are the best gaming monitors you can buy right now? We select five that are all priced under $900 packing premium technologies like G-SYNC and FreeSync, high resolutions, and fast refresh rates.

Intel’s 10nm desktop dreams may be dead — new road map pushes them beyond 2022

Intel may never release a competitive 10nm CPU on desktop if a new roadmap is to be believed. It suggests that Intel will rely on its 14nm process to at least 2022 and perhaps even beyond.

Turn your desk into a command center with the best ultrawide monitors

Top of the line ultrawide monitors have the deepest curves, the sharpest colors, and the biggest screens on the market. You’re going to want one, sooner or later. So why not sooner? These are the best ultrawide monitors you can buy now.

Corsair’s Ironclaw, Glaive gaming mice are tuned for performance and comfort

Corsair is adding wireless capabilities to its Ironclaw gaming mouse this year, while the Glaive RGB Pro has been updated for maximum comfort with thoughtful ergonomics. Both mice feature accurate tracking and durable buttons.

These cheap laptops will make you wonder why anyone spends more

Looking for a budget notebook for school, work, or play? The best budget laptops, including our top pick -- the Asus ZenBook UX331UA -- will get the job done without digging too deeply into your pockets.

Illustrator teases tool to recolor an entire graphic in a few clicks

Not a fan of the colors in your graphic, but dreading the process of replacing each and every one? Adobe Illustrator could soon have a new tool that recolors an entire vector graphic at once, using the color palette from a photograph.