Roberts recently co-authored a book, Science of foreign languages – along with Kirschenbaum, Avram Noam Chomsky and other leading biologists, anthropologists and linguists – to explore what non-human, non-Earth language might look like.
Chomsky, a theoretical linguist, defined language as a system of communication Infinitely adaptabledesigned to serve human interests and solve humanitarian problems – and is flexible enough to communicate a very large number of concepts.
“There might be some kind of bacterial life on Mars or on Jupiter’s moons, but those organisms would be very simple,” Roberts says. “What interests me is the nature of intelligent organisms. So, you have to decide, what is the standard of intelligence?”
The answer to that, Roberts says, is technology — a technological civilization similar to our own, with the ability to get off our planet.
“Aren’t they sitting there, on their planet, wondering who else is out there? And wondering if it’s possible we “Suppose a species is intelligent enough to want to build a spaceship, or a radio telescope — which is complicated,” he says. “You would need to know a lot about physics and mathematics. You would have to have the ability to develop scientific theories and collaborate. You would have to be able to communicate a number of Too many ideas to too many other people. The truth is, [other] Animals did not develop technology.”
Roberts says that without language, technological civilization is inconceivable.
How alien can a language be?
In 2022, Roberts helped found Cambridge Foreign Languages Institute (CIEL), with the aim of looking at how we communicate with extraterrestrial intelligent beings, and how alien language and intelligence might differ from our own.
“My personal view is that language, at its core, should be very similar to our language, in the sense that its formal mathematical nature will be similar to human language,” says Roberts. “But at the same time, they won’t necessarily have anything like speech.”
“Devoted student. Bacon advocate. Beer scholar. Troublemaker. Falls down a lot. Typical coffee enthusiast.”