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Cambridge Language Sciences

Interdisciplinary Research Centre
Eight burst nebula Cambridge Insitute for Eco-Language meeting Saturday 22 October 2022

How different could alien language and intelligence be from ours? How might we communicate with intelligent exo-beings?

These were just two of the questions considered at the inaugural meeting of the Cambridge Institute of Exo-Language (CIEL) which took place on Saturday 22 October at the University of Cambridge’s Sidgwick site, in conjunction with METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) International.

The meeting was convened by Ian Roberts, Professor of Linguistics in the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics at Cambridge University. 

The event brought together linguists, philosophers, mathematicians, physicists, cosmologists, biologists, zoologists, anthropologists, and extra-academic researchers, to consider the nature of exo-language from different disciplinary perspectives.

The aim was to begin to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration on questions to do with the relationship between intelligence, language and cognition in humans, machines and possible or conceivable exo-beings. 

Professor Roberts said “It seems highly unlikely that beings capable of developing a technological civilisation could do so without a 'language' – a means to generate, store, and communicate information. Languages are based on grammars: systems of procedures and primitives, somehow encoded in cognitive mechanisms that determine the possible structural properties of languages. The connections among language, cognition and intelligence are close and complex in humans. Would this also be true of alien intelligence?” 

The meeting included presentations by Doug Vakoch (METI International), Raymond Hickey (University of Limerick), Arik Kershenbaum (Dept. of Zoology) and Jeffrey Watumull (Chief Philosophy Officer and Director of AI Research, Oceanit).

This was followed by a panel discussion with the presenters. 

The Cambridge Institute of Exo-Language (CIEL) was established in 2022 by Professor Roberts. It is hoped that future meetings will be held in Cambridge and elsewhere. Its goal is to consider key questions to do with exo-language such as:

  • How might we communicate with intelligent exo-beings?
  • How different could alien language and intelligence be from ours?
  • Are human language and cognition merely the contingent results of natural selection?
  • What are the constraints on the embodiment of intelligence and language?

Anyone wishing to be get involved with this initiative should contact Professor Roberts.
Image credit: image by SAIF 4 from Pixabay

What we do

Cambridge Language Sciences is an Interdisciplinary Research Centre at the University of Cambridge. Our virtual network connects researchers from five schools across the university as well as other world-leading research institutions. Our aim is to strengthen research collaborations and knowledge transfer across disciplines in order to address large-scale multi-disciplinary research challenges relating to language research.