monigarr3.gifWhen Alan Turing proposed his test, there was no question that the computers would be tested based on their ability to perform in the same language as the interrogators. As a result, the test was also a bit of an English exam — and indeed many bots fail on the basis of their grammar and, well, syntax. Botmistress Monica Peters surely does not teach to the test. She designs bots to “revive” endangered languages, including Mohawk.

Having written the book on creating an army of bots, (Build Your Own Army of Web Bots in 24 Hours), Monica has recently launched, which offers support and a boot camp (or Robot Camp) to “make any communication device speak any endangered - dead - animal - science fiction language.” The Endangered Language set includes Mohawk, Kanienkeha, Seneca, Shoshoni, Tuscarora, Blackfoot, Haida, Inuktitut, Kwakwala, Lakota, and Mahikan.

In this WRT interview, we investigate what drove Monica to this particular use of chatbots and what ways chatbots can contribute to language revival. [Further analysis of Monica’s bots can be found in I, Chatbot]

How did you first become involved with chatbots?

In the early 1970s, I recall my father and his friends gathered around a computer. They were very excited about a program called ELIZA. Soon, my father brought a shiny new Tandy TRS-80 into our home with a stack of computer programming books.

He told me that I could not play with his expensive computer, because it was not a toy. Of course, I read his books and started playing with his computer while he was away at work. I eventually created my first program that told a never-ending story that changed based on the choices that the reader was given. It was my child version of the ELIZA program, I had watched my father and his friends be amazed by.

I was excited by how I was able to teach a computer to tell my stories in a way that was interactive with the reader.
Wow. Then you moved from chatbots telling stories to working with languages. How did you decide to start using chatbots to preserve Mohawk and other languages?

The most important thing to remember about me and my work, is that I do NOT preserve languages. Every community facing an endangered language issue, has people that focus on preserving endangered languages before they die.

If a language has been preserved, that is when I am able to do my work. I bring endangered and dead languages to LIFE. My work is all about LANGUAGE REVIVAL!

An endangered language is close to death, because very few people are able to keep the language alive. A language is alive when many people are speaking, teaching, learning, writing, practicing, and even evolving the language (ie: jargon, new words formed to communicate new technologies)

My work brings endangered and dead languages to life…. only IF they have been preserved with some form of written documentation in regards to spelling and pronunciation.

I think of my work as Language Revival that is possible because of other people’s former preservation work.

So, tell us about your move from building your own language revival bot to founding ? Where does take the work you were doing with your own chatbots? is one of my experiments that I am letting grow organically. I hope it makes the process of reviving endangered languages successful, easy, affordable, and fun for anyone that wishes to revive their language for themself, their family, and even their entire community. The goal is to Keep It Simple and Human Friendly without being chained to our communication tools.

Does “revival” imply stimulating new use of the language or fostering a recovery? I get the sense that your systems could promote interest in the language. What is your sense of the (emotional or social) potential for your systems beyond what we might call their functional inscription of the language?

When I mention ‘Language Revival’, I am referring to the next phase for an endangered or dead language that has been documented (preserved). When people preserve languages, I beleive they must have hoped that one day that language would be valued enough to be revived by one or many people again.

Revival is the process of making it possible to communicate with the language with absolutely any of today’s communication tools.

In regards to endangered and dead languages, I beleive it is nearly impossible to recover all of the original languages authenticity. So, I would not state that chatbot technology can provide a full language recovery. Living languages, such as english, gain new words every day based on each person’s usage and understanding of the world around them.

Their is an interesting language in the mid-west that is used by teen-agers in specific high schools. It’s a combination of the many endangered languages, from each teenagers’ community. It’s a brand new hybrid language that First Nations teenagers have created to communicate with each other, based on the endangered and dead languages from their parents and grandparents.

I am so inspired by people that make time to remember and openly continue to communicate in their own languages with pride, even in times when their own voices are seemingly not understood by the mainstream society around them.
How well do chatbots teach, preserve, or revive, languages?

I guess that depends on the person being taught. Each individual has different learning capabilities. For myself, I learn languages when I am able to speak or sing them frequently, every day, and from every location that I may be.

I’ve never hoped to preserve languages. Like many others, I learned my language as a child then forgot it as I went out to the world to work. Preservation can only go so far before it fails people. Preservation was never meant to be the final word. It’s our duty as human beings to keep our ancestors language - stories - songs alive……. if we do in fact truly value our own history and the lessons to be learned from our history.

You want to know the answers to your future? Learn your own history.

Language education software offers one of the areas where more chatbots find employment (or more engaging employment) then, say, contemporary video games. How have your bots helped spread the use of languages?

My bots take other people’s preservation efforts to the next level. Each community has their own people that have preserved their own languages with dictionaries, books, audio, etc.

The next level is to become healthy and alive. Languages that are healthy and alive are heard and spoken all day and night with any communication device. They are quickly translated to any other living language too.

My bots and my life work is all about reviving the ‘preserved’ … bringing the preserved back to LIFE. speaking our language. When groups of people start speaking their endangered language with each other, it gains momentum and the revival begins.

What advantages does your system have over other chatbot systems particularly for the revival of languages?

I do not know of any other systems that focus on language revival, so I can’t really compare from that angle either.

I guess the advantage is that I can now live with my own language from anywhere. I am in the middle of making my smart home speak mohawk with me.

Another advantage, is that I no longer have any reason to fear the consequences of living with my own language. If I want to speak Mohawk all day and night, I now have the opportunity to be able to do so and still enjoy a successful happy existence in this world.

I have heard people state that they no longer want to live with an endangered or dead language because they can not communicate with others. (work, school, doctor, etc) My work is hopeful of removing that fear because translators can remove language barriers between people that do not speak each others’ languages. It is no longer costly or painfully complicated to revive our languages for any communication device.

I’ve used the english/spanish translators before with success. I can see no reason we can’t also enjoy endangered, dead, and fictional languages.

What are some hesitations people have about using chatbots to preserve a language?

I am a huge believer in The Law of Attraction. I don’t spend very much time thinking about hesitations because I am not interested in imposing my own idea of heaven on other people.

I was raised to always remember to take care of my own needs first, so that I can be strong and healthy when others ask for my help. I revive my language for my own well-being.

Anyone that is from a community facing endangered or dead language issues can understand my own needs and my life’s work.

When a person comes to me and they have hope to revive their own language for them self, or their family, or their community…. I am happy I can help them lay the technological foundation that is suitable for their own unique language and lifestyle.

Much of my strength comes from Kanienkeha and it is a strength that never needs to be imposed on anyone else for any reason. Each person will find their strength in their own language too.

You won the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation Technology and trades award for 2007. What has been the reception of your bots among other Native Americans? Others?

I suppose the same as any developer of a new solution to a painful problem. Each new group or person typically follows a recognizable pattern. First they ignore me, then they laugh at me, then they fight me, then they have hope to revive their own endangered or dead language for themselves.

What advantages do chatbots have over traditional oral preservations in the form of person-to-person instruction from older native speakers?

I would never suggest that anyone use bots to replace their own human speakers. In fact, I highly recommend that technology developers work closely with their fluent speakers to develop bots.

The advantage of a chatbot for language revival, is that it gives the end-user the ability to continue communicating with their language, even when no humans are present that can translate or understand their language.

The best endangered language bots will be created by a GROUP of people that include fluent speakers, writers, teachers, learners, and technology developers…. all working together somehow.

How do your chatbots facilitate the process of revival of an endangered language?
My chatbots make it affordable and easy for busy mobile adults to always have access to their languages of choice, even when they are not able to remain in physical contact with the few remaining (if any) speakers of their language. My chatbots can be accessed from any standard communication device, so that we can see, hear, practice, teach our own languages from any location at any time.The ‘human-friendly’ ergonomics aspect of my work, also makes language revival efforts more accessible for people that might have previously been scared away by complicated technologies.

It can get complicated, but I do my best to provide a finished solution based on each person’s own unique lifestyle and set of communication tools they use allready. Having my own friendly language chatbots on any of my own personal communication devices, also helps everyone I come into contact with to realize that it’s possible for them to get the same thing for them selves so they can also easily start speaking our language. When groups of people start speaking their endangered language with each other, it gains momentum and the revival begins.

Your site mentions: ” ’s mission includes enabling any person to fully immerse themself in any foreign, endangered, dead and science fictional language.” What science fictional languages have you worked with?

Hee hee. I create my own vanity languages for fun. I approach and view it as a learning exercise. For example, I’ve developed one for myself that uses cryptography and that helped me learn more about that technology.

One can find vulcan, elvin, and kling-on bots online. People and Actors actually speak those science-fiction languages fluently.

Who are your target audiences?
It’s all about ME. I guess it’s not obvious to those that don’t me very well. This all started out as my own fun and it still is all about me and my own needs. It just happens that other adults in the world also find value in what I do.

Adults that value communication and their own ancestor’s unique ways of communicating are my targets.

I could also say that cats, insects, birds, fish, and trees are my target audience too sometimes. I also value the way they (all of creation) communicate with each other. It’s not the main focus of my work, but I have been gathering information so that one day I can have bot translators for non-human communications.

Chatbots do seem to be strong methods for distributing language education. However, in the process of language revival, what do chatbots sacrifice? What can’t they capture that is present in human-to-human language revival?

In the process of language revival, chatbots may sacrifice human interaction. They are not created to replace human interaction, so they are not mimicking human nuances at this time. They can be developed to do so, but I do not focus my efforts on replacing or totally imitating humans. My main focus is to provide enough communication tools for individuals to quickly and easily bring a language of their choice into their normal daily routine.

For example, as a human, I communicate differantly based on my health, mood, surroundings, my historical experiences with the person or group I communicate with, and many other factors that include ‘gut feelings’ and illogical human reasoning.

My chatbots on the other hand, are created to typically maintain non-judgemental, language translations with steady moods based on pattern-matching and computational linguistic algorithms. I do include light simulations of altered moods, but it’s not really the focus of my work at this time. For example, if a person decides to swear or communicate in a violent way, the chatbots can warn the person that they will be put on ignore if they continue swearing or misbehaving. The mood and similar features for AliceBot have been generously provided by another chatbot developer called ’square_bear’. His name is Steve Worswick from Goole, East Yorkshire, England and he can be found on any of AliceBot’s email lists. His website is found at /index.htm

As teaching systems, what are some of the sacrifices when choosing chatbots.
I’ve noticed that the idea of what machines and software are able to capture, does scare some people.

When a DEVELOPER has clearly defined goals their is little that can stop them from obtaining their goal.

Sometimes the general public can have very different goals for my work, than my own goals.

My goal is simply to revive endangered and dead languages for anyone that chooses to do so. I strive to bring those languages to mainstream life by making it possible to communicate with any device anywhere.

It’s very difficult for me to consider or find sacrifices because I have not found any… based on my own set of goals and expectations. Sometimes I do have to sacrifice fancy graphics and animations for locations with older or slower computers and communication devices.

When integrating the software with physical hardware, good developers are aware of the thin line between realistic and creepy realistic. That might be considered a sacrifice by people that are not involved in the development process.
Can you describe your bootcamps?

My husband and I have discussed for many years how it would be nice to give others like us, the opportunity to bring their own languages to life.

My husband is not a techie at all, so he has been very helpful with his input in regards to what he would find useful for such a language revival venture.

I design my bootcamps to give a person or group everything they will need to revive their own preserved language.

I am also a fan of human-friendly ergonomics, so I do my best to learn what I can about the person or group’s current lifestyle. Then I suggest everything in regards to the equipment and how to use my language revival systems for their own goals.

Then I put everything together for them, so they can walk away with everything they need….. including the ability to teach their own language and information to a chatbot that they can customize for their own unique lifestyles.

I also consider the fact that high-speed internet, innovative technologies, and technology networks are often not available to communities facing endangered and dead language issues.

Some of our readers build their own bots, so I would like to ask you a bit about the systems you are using. For a while, you used Alice. What attracted you to the Alicebots originally?

AliceBot reminded me of my first encounter with computers and the Eliza program. Alicebot is also open-source, heavily documented, has a helpful developer community, and I can usually find the answer to my questions when I search the internet for documentation or a person that is willing and able to answer my questions.

What other systems did you experiment with?
vxml, salt, xml, X10, Home Automation, Ruby on Rails, rss, animatronics, robotics, wearables. I’ve also created my own vanity markup language for fun exercise. I have to say that I really enjoy developing with Ruby on Rails. Of course I dabble with jabberwacky, perlbots, phpbots, and most any other open-source bot scripts available.

Are you still using Alicebot (in some form) or your own independent system for AILegacy? If it’s your own, can you tell us a little about it?

I still use AliceBot frequently. I tend to develop mix-ins with AliceBot too. For example, I’ve developed Yahoo Messenger and various Social Networking Plug-Ins for my own AliceBots in the past.

I’m also developing with Ruby on Rails, since 2005. A co-worker on a past project, triple dog dared me to re-build our boss’s pet php project with Ruby on Rails. So, I picked up some books and within a week I successfully completed the dare. That was such a crazy fast development process with a brand new language and I am officially hooked on ROR now.

I am not loyal to one solution, because each situation requires solutions that have been tailored to the end-users’ and the developers’ requirements. While I am in one location, I may not have the benefit of internet access or even a fast modern computer. In those instances, I tend to use my custom scripts that I’ve developed with Ruby on Rails, Perl, Php, MySQL, and PostGreSQL.

I approach endangered language revival with a wide variety of technologies. I am always testing out technologies before they become popular too. Either friends introduce me to new technologies or I stumble on them during my own search for an answer.

What other language preservation bots have others designed?

The Hindi bot might be considered a ‘preservation’ bot.
[Note: Ritvik Sahajpal and co.’s Hindi-speaking ALICEbot, Deepti, is currently AWOL AIML..]

What other chatbots do you like or find effective?

Jabberwacky is cool. I tend to like chatbots that also have a pleasant graphical interfaces and voices. The interfaces and voices that I like the most include macromedia flash (adobe), cepstral voices, and streaming video.

How have your thoughts about chatbots changed since you wrote “Build Your Own Army of Bots in 24 Hours?”

Every day is a learning experience.

Are you planning to write any follow ups to “Build Your Own Army of Bots in 24 Hours”?

Yes and No. I am writing a new book about endangered language revival with innovative technologies. I view my first published book (Build Your Own Army of Bots’ as a fun learning experience, so my future books will be more professional, now that I’ve gained more experience with the publishing industry.
Where do you see conversation agents in 5 or 10 years?

Perhaps it will become more mainstream for conversation agents to be integrated with smart home technologies, animatronics, and robotics. Of course, we already see a huge surge in educational systems in the past year too.

It will also be more mainstream for laymen to be able to teach their own conversation agents to communicate in a way that is easily customized to each person’s preferences.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

The answer to that is in my history. Kanienkeha Satati!

To what extent has the potential for language bots been tapped?

Oh my, we have only scratched the surface.

11 Responses to “Chatbots for Native Tongues: Interview Monica Peters”

  1. 1 audrey bush

    I think this a great idea, i am a full blooded mohawk woman and i too have forgot how to speak my language growing up outside of the reservation in the city. so i think this going to benefit anyone who wishes to refresh themselves way to go monica peters we need more people to realize just how important this is to our future generations.

  2. 2 Monica Peters

    Nia:wen ko:wa Audrey :) You, your mom and your family have also been very helpful to keep our language alive and the interest in our language going strong too.

  3. 3 Ivor Griffiths

    I hadn’t appreciated that this type of technology existed. Here in the UK we have local variants of English that are so extensive in their vocabulary and phraseology that they go beyond dialect. For Example Glaswegian witnesses in Courts in the South of England need interpreters and sometimes for North Eastern locals. Would this approach preserve a dialect from a certain era? If so would the resources you use include texts written in that time? Fascinating read. Thanks.

  4. 4 Mark Marino

    I want to let Monica speak to the specifics, though I would look to her emphasis on the openness of her system to all languages. At the same time, she notes that her systems are part of the process of revival that complement the work of those preserving. So, her system would be another part of the process of continuing activity in the language to go along with those who preserve the texts written from that time.

  5. 5 Monica Peters

    Hello Ivor,

    YES, of course you can develop a chatbot to translate ANY LANGUAGE (human, beast, bird, fish, nature, machine), as long as their is some type of documentation for a developer/programmer to refer too. Documentation can be text, audio, video, graphics, any multi-media.

    Language ‘XYZ’ does need some form of documentation to refer too, so that the chatbot developer can put that information into the chatbot knowledgebase.

    If the developer is fluent in the language, they can often just start coding without any formal documentation and plans.

    For languages that I am not fluent with though, I do need documentation, since endangered - dead - fictional languages often do not have libraries or dictionaries to refer too.

    A developer can create documentation by tape-recording and interviewing the fluent speakers too. I’ve also photographed fluent speakers in the past, to capture the physical appearance for developing visemes and phonemes for text to speech solutions.

    When developing chatbots, they do reflect the maturity, personality, knowledge, and experience of the person or people that are involved with developing and maintaining the chatbot at that specific time.

    Developers and Programmers with creativity and some ‘acting’ skills can develop chatbots to mimic the character (appearance, personality, maturity) they are supposed too. ie: male, female, baby, teenager, adult, animal, etc

  6. 6 Paul

    THe question I have is will they be taking into account different dialects for different regoins of a country?

    I mean in my native homeland New Zealand the english language has something like 35 different dialects. I guess if Google picks this one up along the way somewhere they’ll possibly integrate such a thing into their geo-target technologies but I would say that this would only be the case if there is a critical mass of targeted users of their already impresive array of free tools and services, no?

    I know this is possibly taking things a bit far but then you also have to consider the ever changing slang of all languages especially english. If you want to market to a specific segment of a given market or demagraphic then you’ll need to weigh their slang into the equation too if you want to effectively communicate your marketing message to them,. Anyone agree/disagree?

  7. 7 Monica Peters

    Hi Paul. Yes, knowledgebases have been created to reflect any DIALECT of any language. My own endangered language (kanienkeha) has more than one dialect. Each dialect reflects a unique history, geography, and people that speak each dialect.

  8. 8 Yanik

    I’ve always been fascinated by chatbots especially for use in games. I hope one day we’ll have good enough chat bots so that we can populate virtual worlds with them without the players even really being able to tell the difference. Turing would be proud.

  9. 9 Monica Peters

    Hi Yanik,
    You may be interested to see the ‘chatbots’ within SecondLife.

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