Archive for October, 2023

More AI shenanigans

Since When Does Eric Adams Speak Spanish, Yiddish and Mandarin?

He doesn’t. But New York City is using artificial intelligence to send robocalls featuring the mayor’s voice in many languages.

By Emma G. Fitzsimmons and Jeffery C. Mays, NYT (Oct. 20, 2023)

The calls to New Yorkers have a familiar ring to them. They all sound like Mayor Eric Adams — only in Spanish. Or Yiddish. Or Mandarin.

Has the mayor been taking language lessons?

The answer is no, and the truth is slightly more expensive and, in the eyes of privacy experts, far more worrisome.

The mayor is using artificial intelligence to reach New Yorkers through robocalls in a number of languages. The calls encourage people to apply for jobs in city government or to attend community events like concerts.

“I walk around sometimes and people turn around and say, ‘I just know that voice. That voice is so comforting. I enjoy hearing your voice,’” the mayor said at a recent news conference. “Now they’re able to hear my voice in their language.”

New York City’s embrace of the technology came this week as Mr. Adams announced a 50-page “action plan” for artificial intelligence — an effort to “strike a critical balance in the global A.I. conversation,” he said, by embracing its benefits while protecting New Yorkers from its pitfalls.

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Pinyin vs. English

I knew that in the future it would come to this.  More than forty years ago, I predicted that one day China would have to make a choice between Hanyu Pinyin and English when it comes to phonetic writing.  As we say in Mandarin, "guǒrán 果然" ("as expected / it turns out")….

It seems that there's been quite a flap over the replacement of signs for subway station stops from English to Hanyu Pinyin, as documented (verbally and visually [many photographs]) in this Chinese article.  Naturally, the Chinese characters are there in either case, but what people are complaining about is the replacement of English with Hanyu Pinyin.  For example, changing "Library" to "Tushuguan" or "Hefei Train Station" to "Hefei Huochezhan".

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AI and the law, part 2

Here we go again, but this time on a grander and more dramatic scale:

Pras Michel of Fugees seeks new trial, contends former attorney used AI for closing argument

The hip-hop artist convicted on campaign finance and foreign influence charges seeks to set aside the jury’s guilty verdicts.

By Josh Bernstein, Politico (1016/23)

Notice the high stakes of this trial, since the defendant, among many other serious, wide-randing charges, is accused of acting as an unregistered foreign agent for China.

Fugees star Pras Michel, who was convicted in April on charges of conspiring to make straw campaign donations, witness tampering and acting as an unregistered foreign agent for China, appears to be breaking new legal ground by calling for a new trial by claiming his defense attorneys allegedly relied on artificial intelligence to compile their final argument for the jury.

In a withering motion filed Monday night with a federal judge in Washington, Michel’s new attorneys argued that his Los Angeles-based lawyer David Kenner relied on the fledgling technology at critical points in Michel’s trial, contributing to “prejudicial ineffective assistance of counsel.”

As soon as I saw David Kenner's name and photograph bruited in this case, I thought, "Isn't he one of the most prominent celebrity lawyers in LA?"

Indeed, he is.  See here and here.

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Flip over when you finish

From shaing tai, via a group on Facebook, photograph taken at the New Otani Inn in Tokyo:

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Wok talk: enlarging the scope

Following up on "Wok talk: a real-life retronym!" (10/16/23), Jim Millward remarks:

My wife (Punjabi background) and her family call the "wok-shaped pan" they use for cooking vegetable or meat dishes "kurai" (that's my phoneticization–it could be aspirated or unaspirated k / g, I'm not good at hearing the difference).  I've seen these and we've got a couple–they are indeed parabolic curved-sided heavier metal pans, though some have small diameter flat bottoms for convenience.   Other pots and pans are called patila.   The dishes, generally, are bartan.  The kurai, she just told me, is specifically the "wok-shaped pan." 

I don't have the tools to look into this, but kurai may be Hindi with Sanskrit origins, possibly related to 锅?

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Compound pejoratives

[This has been drifting down my too-long to-blog list for almost 16 months — but better late than never, I guess, and the world could use some pejorative-flavored humor…] 

Colin Morris, "Compound pejoratives on Reddit – from buttface to wankpuffin", 6/28/2022:

I collected lists of around 70 prefixes and 70 suffixes (collectively, “affixes”) that can be flexibly combined to form insulting compounds, based on a scan of Wiktionary’s English derogatory terms category. The terms covered a wide range of domains, including:

    • scatology (fart-poop-)
    • political epithets (lib-Trump-)
    • food (-waffle-burger)
    • body parts (butt--face-head-brains)
    • gendered epithets (bitch--boy)
    • animals (dog--monkey)

Most terms were limited to appearing in one position. For example, while -face readily forms pejorative compounds as a suffix, it fails to produce felicitous compounds as a prefix (facewadfaceclownfacefart?).

Taking the product of these lists gives around 4,800 possible A+B combinations. Most are of a pejorative character, though some false positives slipped in (e.g. dogpilespitballs). I scraped all Reddit comments from 2006 to the end of 2020, and counted the number of comments containing each.

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Wok talk: a real-life retronym!

From François Lang:

Since you're a Sinologist, I thought you might be amused by a retronym that I had to coin.
My wife (59 YO) was born and grew up in Beijing, and came to the US in the 80s to do her PhD at Cornell. Since she's Chinese, the only stovetop cooking vessel she'd ever known was a wok, so she calls any such vessel a wok — whether it's a sauté pan, sauce pan, dutch oven, or stockpot. They're all woks to her.
So…when she uses what we Westerners call a wok, she calls it a "Chinese wok", as opposed to a Western wok!

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Read vs. spontaneous speech

Across the many disciplines that analyze language, there's surprisingly little focus on the properties of natural, spontaneous speech, as opposed to read (or memorized and performed) speech. But of course that dichotomy is an oversimplification — there are many linguistic registers, many ways to read each of the many styles of text, and even more individual, social, and contextual factors influencing spontaneous speech.

So one place to start is events where the same speaker, addressing the same audience for the same purposes, both reads a passage and answers questions — in such cases, at least the speaker and the context are controlled. In "Fluent 'disfluencies' again", 9/3/2022, I looked at the question-answering part of such an event, a press briefing by the U.S. Department of Defense Press Secretary, Brigadier General Patrick S. Ryder. At least, I looked at one small aspect of some of his answers, namely the distribution of certain kinds of disfluencies interpolations.

The focus of this morning's Breakfast Experiment™ will be one of Ryder's more recent press briefings, comparing the introduction (where he reads prepared text) to the first of his answers to subsequent press questions. I'll look at (aspects of) the properties of speech segments and silence segments, as well the statistics of local inter-syllable durations. For both of those features, fully-automatic analysis techniques allow research at scale, though this morning's data sample is small.

I'll also take a short comparative peek at his filled pauses and rapid word-repetitions in the two passages.

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Hypercorrect Mandarin tones

Here are two examples.  The first is the (in)famous one about the "Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den":

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"Eat their young"

In "Trump Short-Circuits in New Video as Concerns Grow Over Cognitive Decline", Meidas Touch 10/14/2023, Brett Meiselas presents the apparent mis-use of an idiom as evidence of neurodegeneration:

A new video posted by Donald Trump to his social media account is the latest in a series of clips of the former president that have raised concerns about his rapidly deteriorating cognitive abilities.

In the video, Trump launches into a deranged rant accusing his former Attorney General Bill Barr, Senator Mitt Romney and former Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of conspiring with big donors and two GOP candidates running against him.

Trump says they are disloyal losers with no talent and that they “eat their young” by opposing him and that “Republican Nation” must not listen to them.

"But remember, Republicans eat their young. They really do. They eat their young. Terrible statement. But it's true," Trump said in a dark room where he records his videos. […]

It's possible that Trump's teleprompter said that Republicans "eat their own" and that Trump misread the phrase twice in just a couple seconds […]

But what is extra sad is that Trump's handlers seem to have completely lost control of the criminally indicted, disgraced GOP candidate. They had an opportunity to reshoot this prerecorded video prior to posting it, yet they didn't even bother.

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AI and the law

Article in LAist (10/12/23);

This Prolific LA Eviction Law Firm Was Caught Faking Cases In Court. Did They Misuse AI?

Dennis Block runs what he says is California’s “leading eviction law firm.” A judge said legal citations submitted in Block's name for a recent case were fake. Six legal experts told LAist the errors likely stemmed from AI misuse.

By  David Wagner

Key findings at a glance
    • Dennis P. Block and Associates, which describes itself as California’s “leading eviction law firm,” was recently sanctioned by an L.A. County Superior Court judge over a court filing the judge found contained fake case law. 
    • Six legal experts told LAist there’s a likely explanation behind the filing’s errors: misuse of a generative artificial intelligence program. They said they thought Block’s filing bears striking similarities to a brief prepared by a New York attorney who admitted to using ChatGPT back in May.
    • Block’s firm was ordered to pay $999 over the violation. That’s $1 below the threshold that would have required the firm to report the sanction to the state bar for further investigation and possible disciplinary action. 
    • In interviews with three former clients and a review of 12 malpractice or negligence lawsuits filed against Block or his firm, LAist found more allegations of mishandled evictions.

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As Language Log readers are undoubtedly aware, I am prey to mondegreens, earworms, and other imaginary auditory oddities.  Lately, the last half year or so, I've been occasionally subject to what, faute de mieux, I've taken to calling "autoarticulation", modeled after "autosuggestion".

It doesn't last very long, doesn't repeat on an endless loop, and is not very annoying, though it is a bit creepy.

Here's what happens.  A phrase — usually between about three and eight words — pops into my mind.  It comes out of nowhere.  It is completely irrelevant to anything that comes before or after it.  The phrase is articulated clearly in standard, neutral American English, without any accent.  I don't know if anyone else experiences this kind of phenomenon, but in my case, the voice is usually male, although once in a while it may be female.

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Ox Demolition

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