Can Robots Learn to Talk?
We are all familiar with robots and other computers producing linguistic expressions. The essay discusses the question in what sense these speech-like phenomena can be regarded as an outcome of what might be called learning to talk. The question might also be rephrased as follows: in what sense can a talking robot be considered a speaker. In the debate becoming a speaker is often construed as an ability to connect signs with objects. As was shown by Wittgenstein this conception of being a speaker is highly impoverished. To be a speaker is to be able to express oneself by means of words. This ability is connected with having a life, which robots lack. What concerns me in this discussion is not so much the ongoing debate about what robots can and cannot do. Rather, it is the light it may throw on what it means for a human being to learn to talk.
I wish to thank Merete Mazzarella, as well as the participants in the philosophy research seminar at the University of Queensland, for helpful comments.
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