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Creating a Universal Language

Updated: Aug 28, 2021

"With the technology of artificial intelligence, the machine learns the human logic of creating a pictographic language and generates a new pictographic language."


A machine may create a pictographic language that can be understood across all continents.

“A human created the first communication system. With the technology of artificial intelligence, the machine learns the human logic of creating a pictographic language and generates a new pictographic language,” said Haytham Nawar, according to News at the American University in Cairo (AUC) (August 17).

“Humans have created some of the most sophisticated pictographic languages over time, and it is important to explore the idea of whether or not we can create a new one that is accessible and legible to everyone.”

Nawar’s latest project, Generative Pictographic Language, was exhibited in Scripts and Calligraphy: A Timeless Journey at the National Museum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The summer exhibition was the first of its kind combining classical Arabic calligraphy with artificial intelligence, according to the Saudi Gazette (June 14).

In Nawar’s artistic human-machine collaboration, the machine is exposed to a database of 180 writing systems: pictography (images represent ideas) and discovered in Egypt and Mesopotamia before 3000 BC; ideography (symbols represent ideas), such as numerals and mathematical symbols; and logographic writing system (characters represent words), used partially, by the first civilizations.

The database also included syllabaries (symbols represent syllables), such as Japanese and Cherokee, and semi-syllabaries, and segmental scripts (abjads, for example, contain symbols for consonants only), such as Arabic and Hebrew, and alphabets (symbolic letters represent sounds), said Nawar, who is Chair of the Department of the Arts at AUC.

Contemporary emojis and ancient hieroglyphics also were included in the endeavor.

“The project looks for similarities and differences between ancient civilizations through ancient communication systems and communication systems of the future, and the challenge between (humans) and machine, reported News at the AUC.

There are three main aspects of the project:

First, a short animated film that includes the generated script. It showcases the transformation from the original script to the new script;

Second, three characters – one from hieroglyphs, Arabic and cuneiform -- are transformed from two- to three-dimensional. This highlights the challenge of communication and its potential to be three-dimensional;

Third, a printed art book documents the concept and the process.

“Scripts and writing systems are instruments of the various languages that have come to exist throughout the long history of humankind,” said Nawar. “They are considered a historical necessity for the emergence of our countless languages.”

The next phase of the ongoing project “includes developing the three-dimensional objects with different materials and generating performance with a robot hand to engrave the newly generated language.

“This presents another challenge between humans and machines, in terms of the way the first (human) engraved hieroglyphics on tombs and temples and how the robot will engrave the newly generated language using the new technology.”

His deep interest in linguistics inspired his project, Nawar told News at the AUC, as did his specialty in design. Two years ago, he began researching ancient scripts.

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, several languages, including Esperanto and Ido, were artificially constructed and designed to be spoken easily by everyone. They did not belong to any one country.

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