winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)

As the good Tom Waits would say, I want to pull on your coat about something. As I've been revamping my cv and hunting for advisors for the next round of phd applications, I've begun once again lamenting the fragmentation of my field. I suppose I should tell you what my field is but, y'see, that's where all the problems lie: there's no such field. As diverse and Renaissance as my interests are, they're all three sides of the same coin: language, sociality, and intelligence.

So, first things first. Evidently language is a diverse topic, but I mean to focus on formal and theoretical matters, the quintessence of what makes what we call "language". The early work of Chomsky to the contrary, there's an unfortunate —though entirely understandable— break between the study of formal languages and natural languages. On the natural side I'm interested in morphology and its interfaces with other components of language (morphophonology, morphosyntax & scrambling, morphosemantics & nuance). On the formal side I'm interested in the design of programming languages, ontologies, and interfaces. And on the middle side I'm interested in grammar formalisms like TAG and CCG as well as the automata theory that drives these and parsers and machine translation.

Sociality is also a diverse topic, without even accounting for the fact that I'm abusing the term to cover both the structure of societies and the interactions within and between them. Here too there's an unfortunate —though entirely understandable— break between the humanities and the sciences. In the humanities I'm interested in anthropology, gender/sexuality studies, performativity, the body as media, urban neo-tribalism, and online communities. More scientifically I'm interested in nonlinear systems theory, information theory, chaos theory, catastrophe theory, scale-free networks, and theoretical genetics. And again, on the middle side there are issues of sociolinguistics: code switching, emotional particles, uses of prosody, politeness and group-formation; and evolution: both evolutionary computation, and also cultural and linguistic evolution.

And as you may no doubt be gathering, studies of intelligence too are vast and harshly divided— between wetware and hardware, or between cognition and computation if you prefer. Language is often pegged as a fundamental component to humanity's ability for higher thought, and yet even despite this the majority of linguistic formalisms neglect questions of how cognitively realistic they are as models of actual human linguistic performance. Over on the side of artificial intelligence and artificial life there's a rift between those studying complexity, adaptation, and emergence vs those trying to hammer thought and knowledge into the rigid formalisms of logic and probability. Sandwiched between these conflicts are the war-torn battle grounds of machine translation, language learning, and language acquisition.

So how many fields are involved in this tripartite Janus of interfaces, systems, and agency? To make a short list: linguistics, mathematics, computer science, cultural anthropology, gender/queer/feminist studies, women's lit, systems science/systems theory, cognitive science, social psychology, computational biology, artificial intelligence/artificial life/machine learning, and given the vagaries of universities often electrical engineering and philosophy for good measure. How many is that? Too goddamned many, that's how many. And to top it off, all of them are interdisciplinary to boot. Now you may be saying to yourself that I'm trying too hard to unify too many disparate discourses, and perhaps it's true, but there is a cohesion there which should be evident by the extent to which each of those many fields crosscut these three seemingly simple categories.

Systems theory gets it right when they say that the current state of science is burdened by its focus on fundamentalism. )
winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)

So I've been messing around with my profile the last couple days. For the most part I tend to let it get rather stale, but every so often I go in to shuffle the interests around a bit, curse the 150 limit, see who's friended me, etc. And lately I've started taking part in an aspect of lj I've largely ignored until now.

One of the interesting things about lj is the social aspect to it. Not just the comments and the webwork of friending but also the communities, the interest searching, the schools, u.s.w. Lately I've been joining a number of communities and meeting new folks, mostly other Portlanders. Much as I prefer a number of the features of my own blogging software, it was never my intention to add that social aspect. I designed it to ease writing posts, in particular posts like mine which tend to have footnotes, references, and the like. I do have plans to add in comments, but that's about it.

If I were to write something for socializing, I'd probably write an engine for sophisticated interests tagging; remove the blogging entirely or have it just be a hook into your blog site of choice. The more I think about how I'd design such an interests machine, the more it starts to resemble certain other projects of mine. The first is a tagging engine for keeping track of large quantities of media files (this is anime, that's a photo from [ profile] urban_decay, this is a Don Hertzfeldt short, that's pr0n,...). The second is to deal with one of my biggest gripes about iTunes: namely to provide a sophisticated system for categorizing genres, e.g. sometimes you want to be specific (ebm, darkwave, japanese swing, koto,...) and sometimes you just want to be general (electronica, japanese,... or heck: music).

on semantic-space tagging problems )
winterkoninkje: shadowcrane (clean) (Default)

So I was reading an article on Pyramid recently, and the attendant discussion on the Pyramid discussion boards, which got me thinking. I often don't realize how much the internet has evolved in my lifetime, or how immersed I've been in that change. True, I'm no Great Old One who had the honor of dealing with punch-cards or actual terminals. But if those venerable souls were the ones who wrought the net from the unliving stone, then I am of the first progeny that genesis has spawned. Not even an early-adopter, for that would presume something to be adopted, but rather an embodiment of the time from which sprang the devices for adoption.

Looking back over the net, even just over my megre life, I have seen the invention and death of countless technologies. Technologies which have at their core the one simple truth about the internet. The net, as with the whole of human endeavor is concerned solely with the production and consumption of meaning, with the conveyance of thought and information.

To that end we have invented countless ways to communicate that meaning, from the very fundament of language itself, to books and radio and television, to bulletin boards, email, usenet, IRC, webpages, instant messaging, weblogs, newsfeeds, podcasts, voice-over-IP, wikis, and countless others. And over time we've seen the revival of a number of these forgotten souls in the new era from bulletin boards like Craigslist, to the reinvention of terminals with lessdisks, to the purported renaissance of IRC.

And yet, when e'er these ideas return they are thought of as novel and all too often they fear to look at their predecessors to learn from the faults of times past. An interesting thing is that the difficulties with each of these technologies are remarkable in their similarity despite their disparate implementations. The problem of spam originated on usenet if not before. And since then it has spread to email, IM, and even wikis. And so it is with the myriad of other difficulties.

Upon reflection, one thing which I find is lacking, is a unified system which categorizes these different technologies, a single language with which to discuss and compare them. A language which could be almost deceptive in its simplicity. There are a small number of axes on which these forms of communication can be rated.

One possible ontology follows )
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