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Club of Amsterdam Journal, March 2012, Issue 146

March 2012, Issue 146

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Welcome to the Club of Amsterdam Journal.

As a part of the Language Rich Europe project the current state of play as for multilingualism policy and practice has been researched in 20 European countries.

What would the consequences be if we all spoke one language? History shows that languages that we use are not only about words. Federico Fellini, an Italian filmmaker, once said, "A different language is a different vision of life". But is there really a relationship between the language and the thought? If we do decide to learn another language, what is the easiest way to get a good grasp of it?

Join us at the future of Languages - more than just words - Thursday, 29 March!
.... interested in knowing more and sharing thoughts and ideas .... email us!

Felix Bopp, editor-in-chief


Towards a Global Theatre of Languages

Next Events

Quantifying climate impacts: new comprehensive model comparison launched

Club of Amsterdam blog

News about the Future

Conversations on the future of translation

Recommended Book

India's top-performing CEOs

Solar panels made from plant material

Futurist Portrait: Rohit Talwar



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. Towards a Global Theatre of Languages

By Ola Parcinska

The Future of Languages

Towards a Global Theatre of Languages

“Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey.” - Roman Jakobson, a Russian linguist and literary theorist.

Languages as an Ecosystem

Languages can be seen in some sense alive. They emerge, they evolve and reproduce, and some ultimately die. The meaning accommodates the constant change and interaction with the environment. The vitality of languages depends on the communicative behaviours of their speakers, who in turn respond adaptively to changes in their socio-economic ecologies. Emergence of English as a global language, the high number of dying or endangered languages and (Internet) technology are perceived as the main drivers of the current changes in the landscape of languages, more often than not seen as a threat to their diversity.

Past Times are Pastimes – What about the Future?

In 2012 it is exactly 40 years since the publication of The Gutenberg Galaxy of Marshall McLuhan who coined the term of “Global Village” and also prophesied the web technology. While McLuhan understood the Global Village as “heightened human awareness of responsibility” due to the instantaneous movement of information on the globe, he never referred to the idea that electronic media would create unified communities. On the contrary, McLuhan expected even more discontinuity and diversity as a result of the process. The current state of play seems to indicate a different direction. However, looking at the latest technology and languages, it may well be evolving only now.

Talking Dictionaries - Digitalisation of Endangered Languages

Nuances and possibilities of expression are lost without variation. Intellectual diversity and multiple ways of thinking suggested by different languages makes us, as a species, smarter and more able to solve common problems. The speed with which languages are disappearing nowadays is on an unprecedented scale. Digital technology allows for capturing and preserving the endangered languages. “The talking dictionaries” initiative from National Geographic Society's Enduring Voices project is an attempt to prevent these ancient languages being forgotten. In some cases, it is the first time a language has been recorded or written down anywhere.

Universal Translator

Improving currently at high-speed, automated translation technology makes texts available in any major human language as well as allowing for a real-time translation. Real-time voice recognition is combined with automatic translation and speech generation to produce a crude but effective "universal translator" that allows a monolingual human to converse (at least slowly and simply) with any speaker of any major human language. With the development of recording and capturing languages currently underrepresented in the digital from, it will expand to any desired language. In the current research, there are also trials to capture emotions and personalize the outcome so that the generated sounds resemble the voice of the speaker.

Mind Reading - Thoughts Translated into Spoken Words

Mind reading may be around the corner. Researchers at Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California Berkeley were able to decode activity in the human auditory system in order to guess the words that people were actually listening to. The results of the latest experiment provide insights into higher order neural speech processing and suggest it may be possible to readout intended speech directly from brain activity. For patients that can’t speak, for example, being able to reconstruct words that they imagine would allow them to communicate through a new interface.

Second Orality - Towards Fusion of Written and Oral

Gutenberg “Parenthesis” is a period marked by the reign of the printing mode, a concept formulated by Prof. L. O. Sauerberg of the University of Southern Denmark. Isolated from the largely oral culture that came before, this period seems to be coming to an end together with the digitally shaped culture emerging today. We may talk about the “liberation” of words from the nonnegotiable confines of the print and stories circumscribed by beginning, middle and end. We are going towards the freedom of the meaning of the words and story telling as in other oral traditions from the past, which allowed for dynamically changing texts and performances. We may not be reverting to a preliterate society so much as evolving into a “secondary orality”, supported massively by super literacy in the digital form based on a return of the fluidity in communication.

Global Theatre of Languages

After the publication of Understanding Media, McLuhan started to use the term Global Theater to stress the shift from consumer to producer, from acquisition to involvement. This may well apply to languages, with more people having access to digital tools and new technology. We will be able not only to preserve languages, to learn (about) and communicate in other languages, but also make new voices heard and have more flexibility and freedom of self-expression in our fast and more complex lives.

.Next Events

the future of Languages - more than just words

Thursday, March 29, 2012
Registration: 18:30-19:00, Conference: 19:00-21:15

OBA - Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam, Oosterdokseiland 143, 1011 DL Amsterdam (east of Amsterdam Centraal Station)
In collaboration with the British Council and OBA - Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam

The conference language is English.

more information

The speakers and topics are:
Mirjam Broersma, PhD, Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
Why linguistic diversity will never disappear

Speaking and understanding speech are much more difficult in a second language than in one's native language. Some of the associated problems are not obvious to understand. Why do some foreign languages seem so much faster than our native language? Why do Dutch speakers never manage to pronounce the English 'th' correctly? This talk will explain such difficulties by addressing the cognitive processes underlying speech. And it will answer the question why, despite such difficulties, linguistic diversity will never disappear.

Simon King, Professor of Speech Processing & Director of the Centre for Speech Technology Research, University of Edinburgh, UK
Making computers speak like individual people.

Simon will demonstrate what is currently possible in speech synthesis - the conversion from text to speech by computers. Recent developments now make it possible for computers to sound like individual people, opening up new applications such as personalised speech translation and assistive communication aids for people who have difficulty speaking. But there remain barriers to making this technology available in all the world's languages, especially those with small numbers of speakers, or spoken in less affluent parts of the world.

Tsead Bruinja, Poet
Failing in Between - Writing Poetry in two languages

Tsead s a poet/performer who writes both in Frisian (the language spoken in the provence Fryslân) and in Dutch. Bruinja has read his work at festival all over the world, from Zimbabwe and Nicaragua to Indonesia. His work has been translated in many languages and he himself has translated the work of poets from other into Dutch and Frisian.

In his talk he will read some of his translations and original poetry and talk about his experiences as a poet writing in two languages. Bruinja had to relearn to write Frisian when he was 25 and he did this mainly by reading Frisian books and studying Frisian at the University of Groningen, where he first studied English language and American literature. Frisian is a language spoken by half of the population of Fryslân, but about 4% can actually write Frisian and maybe 20% can read it. 'Why would you want to write for such a small audience?' is a question he is often asked by his Dutch colleagues and Bruinja answers 'because it is the language that my mother spoke.

and our moderator Aleksandra Parcinska

... a
nd live music with Asia Kowalewska, a Polish singer and songwriter

.Quantifying climate impacts: new comprehensive model
.comparison launched

Climate change has impacts on forests, fields, rivers – and thereby on humans that breathe, eat and drink. To assess these impacts more accurately, a comprehensive comparison of computer-based simulations from all over the world will start this week (7 February 2012). For the first time, sectors ranging from ecosystems to agriculture to water supplies and health will be scrutinized in a common framework. The models will be provided by more than two dozen research groups from the United States, China, Germany, Austria, Kenya, and the Netherlands, among others. The scientists will investigate which results are robust, where there are uncertainties and why. The project will be coordinated by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

Some results of the study will be available within 12 months from now for consideration and integration into the development of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fifth Assessment Report, due for completion in 2014. The simulations will be based on the latest generation of climate scenarios covering a wide range of possible futures.

“We want to better understand how climate impacts differ between a global warming of two degrees compared to three degrees,” says Katja Frieler of the Inter-Sectoral Impact Model Intercomparison Project coordinating team (ISI-MIP). The international community has set a target of two degrees, but unfettered emission of greenhouse gases sets the world on a path to three degrees or more. This seemingly small difference could have drastic impacts.“ These are calculated on the basis of observations and current understanding of the relevant processes,” says Frieler. “We will examine to what extent they agree across models and quantify the uncertainty that remains.”

"The project will help to fill a sore gap in the IPCC's report"

The global model comparison puts the focus squarely on humans. Water shortages in a region in Africa for instance could make it difficult for farmers to cultivate their fields, poor crops could lead to malnourishment and thus to a higher vulnerability to diseases, Frieler explains. The comparison could help to identify possible regional hotspots.

“The project will help to fill a sore gap in the IPCC´s report,” says Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, PIK director. Until now, there have been comprehensive model comparisons for the physics of the climate system as well as for the economy of climate protection and for climate impacts on specific sectors. To address all climate impacts at once is both an ambitious and necessary intent, says Schellnhuber. “It provides an essential strengthening of the grounds for the 2014 IPCC report.”

Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, California, expressed enthusiasm for the project. “As co-chair of IPCC Working Group II, I greatly appreciate the initiative required to get this activity underway, and I appreciate the commitment to fast-track components that will yield results in time for inclusion in the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report”, says Field. The products that ISI-MIP envisions “will make a real difference for the assessment process.” The IPCC Working Group II assesses impacts, adaptation and vulnerability.

"The time has come for this comparison"

Working Group III co-chair Ottmar Edenhofer from PIK also explicitly encouraged the impact intercomparison project. "A sound impact analysis is of high relevance for mitigation and adaptation assessment as well," says Edenhofer. "It enables us to do cost-benefit estimates that are critical for providing decision-makers with the information they need. We therefore strongly endorse the impact model intercomparison effort." Working group III of the IPCC focuses on climate change mitigation.

“The time has come for this comparison,” says Pavel Kabat, Director of IIASA. “A multi-model cross-sectoral approach to projections of climate change impacts has not been available in the past. The ISI-MIP project is a significant and positive development in this regard. We have access to sophisticated models, vast quantities of high-quality data from many sectors and regions and an urgency to deliver a highly integrative analysis of our current knowledge about global impacts of climate change. We are confident that this project can deliver such an analysis.”

.Club of Amsterdam blog

Club of Amsterdam blog

Burning Issues: Education
Burning Issues: Resources: Water, Energy, Air, Food
Burning Issues: Health
Burning Issues: Climate Change / Sustainability (1)
Burning Issues: Climate Change / Sustainability (2)
Burning Issues: Economy / Stock Market / Poverty
Burning Issues: Waste / Pollution
Burning Issues: Globalization
The ultimate freedom: beyond time
Limits to Knowing
Socratic Innovation

.News about the Future

A drone for everybody

Thanks to its on-board Wi-Fi system, you can control the Parrot AR.Drone using an iPhone, iPod Touch, or an iPad. It has been designed for both inside and outside use. Another major feature is the use of several AR.Drone on a network. Thanks to its own generated Wi-Fi network, players can create a game party where others players can join and play against each other.
Get inside the cockpit of your AR.Drone! Even meters away, keep control with your video remote thanks to a Wi-Fi connection. Two cameras are embedded, one on the front and one underneath facing the ground.

The Future of Seating Technology

Because no two bodies are alike, the Gymygym's patented flat bungee seating system is designed to specifically conform to you, the user, providing the perfect combination of give and support where you need it most while helping to eliminate the very serious physical issues caused from prolonged improper seating.

The custom constructed Gymygym Ergonomic Exercise Office Chair correctly positions the body to: Relieve pressure on hips, lower back, neck and shoulders / Improve circulation / Promote proper alignment of the spine

.Conversations on the future of translation

By Jonathan Marks, Director, Critical Distance

The EU spends a fortune on translating texts from one language to another. So can machines help cut the costs in these economically austere times? I’ve been following an Irish start-up founded by a New Zealander and an Australian. These guys seem to be well ahead of others in tackling the cost of translation and in these two interviews, David explains in some detail their approach which involves mixing machine translation with human intervention. He shares why crowd-sourcing a translation doesn't work and the challenges they have faced and solved. If you're working on localising a site in Europe, you should take a few minutes of your time to get some great insight. The second interview is a follow-up encounter where David explains that changes to Google translate means they are now working with other machine-translators and that the business of translating video subtitles accurately is booming.

I’m curious to see what technologies will be applied to the British Council’s Language Rich project who are backing the Club of Amsterdam evening in March.


Straker, Conversations on the future of translation
In the closing stages of Leweb10, I had one of my most interesting conversations of the event. Its with an Irish start-up founded by a New Zealander and an Australian. These guys are well ahead of others in tackling the cost of translation - and if you see how much the EU spends on translating stuff which is never read, you can see they are on to a winner. David explained in some detail their approach which involves mixing machine translation with human intervention. He shares why crowd-sourcing a translation doesn't work and the challenges they have faced and solved. If you're working on localising a site in Europe, you should take a few minutes of your time to get some great insight. These guys really do know what they're doing.

What's Next for Machine Translations?
Caught up with David Sowerby of the Irish start-up Straker Translations, following a previous encounter at LeWeb2010. Things have certainly changed for this start-up and I was interested in their change of direction - from using Google Translate to developing their own machine translation models and doing much more with subititling video. The Olympia Exhibition centre has truly horrible acoustics, but I still thought his ideas were worth posting here. These people seemed to be way ahead of others I know. Interested in learning of other projects.

.Recommended Book

Music, Language, and the Brain
by Aniruddh D. Patel

In the first comprehensive study of the relationship between music and language from the standpoint of cognitive neuroscience, Aniruddh D. Patel challenges the widespread belief that music and language are processed independently. Since Plato's time, the relationship between music and language has attracted interest and debate from a wide range of thinkers. Recently, scientific research on this topic has been growing rapidly, as scholars from diverse disciplines, including linguistics, cognitive science, music cognition, and neuroscience are drawn to the music-language interface as one way to explore the extent to which different mental abilities are processed by separate brain mechanisms. Accordingly, the relevant data and theories have been spread across a range of disciplines. This volume provides the first synthesis, arguing that music and language share deep and critical connections, and that comparative research provides a powerful way to study the cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying these uniquely human abilities.

.India's top-performing CEOs

INSEAD Professor Balagopal Vissa on India's top-performing CEOs. A new INSEAD study reveals the emerging nation's top-performing CEOs. Who made the list and what earned them top marks?

Balagopal Vissa is Director of the INSEAD Leadership Programme for Senior Indian Executives.

.Solar panels made from plant material

MIT researcher Andreas Mershin has a vision that within a few years, people in remote villages in the developing world may be able to make their own solar panels, at low cost, using otherwise worthless agricultural waste as their raw material.

“You can use anything green, even grass clippings” as the raw material, he says — in some cases, waste that people would otherwise pay to have hauled away. While centrifuges were used to concentrate the PS-I molecules, the team has proposed a way to achieve this concentration by using inexpensive membranes for filtration. No special laboratory conditions are needed, Mershin says: “It can be very dirty and it still works, because of the way nature has designed it. Nature works in dirty environments — it’s the result of billions of experiments over billions of years.”


.Futurist Portrait: Rohit Talwar

Rohit Talwar is a global futurist and the founder of Fast Future Research.

Rohit Talwar is futurist, strategist, researcher and award winning professional speaker who founded and leads the futures research organisation Fast Future. His work focuses on helping clients develop innovative responses to the trends and forces shaping the future. He has spoken and consulted in over 40 countries on five continents. His book Designing Your Future was published in conjunction with the American Society for Assocation Executives & The Center for Association Leadership August 2008.

Rohit Talwar was recently profiled as one of the top 10 global trend watchers by The Independent.

Rohit is also interested in the evolution of China, India, the emerging economies. He has completed major global studies on the Future of China’s Economy – The Path to 2020 and is working on scenarios for 2030 and the implications for global migration for the OECD and a project on the Future of Childhood. Rohit’s clients include global corporations, governments and innovative start-ups.



Season Events 2011/2012

NEXT Event

March 29, 2012
the future of Languages - more than just words
March 29, 2012, 18:30 - 21:15
Location: OBA - Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam, Oosterdokseiland 143, 1011 DL Amsterdam

In collaboration with the British Council & OBA

April 26, 2012
the future of Germany
April 26, 2012, 18:30 - 21:15
Location: Kamer van Koophandel Amsterdam - Netherlands Chamber of Commerce, De Ruyterkade 5, 1013 AA Amsterdam
Supported by KvK Amsterdam

May 31, 2012
the future of Taxes
May 31, 2012, 18:30 - 21:15
Location:, Sint Antoniesbreestraat 16. 1011 HB, Amsterdam
Supported by

June 28, 2012
the future of Urban Energy
June 28, 2012, 18:30 - 21:15
Option: Guided Tour
Location: Van Eesterenmuseum, Burgemeester De Vlugtlaan 125
, 1063 BJ Amsterdam
Supported by the Van Eesterenmuseum

Club of Amsterdam Ticket Corner

Past Season Events 2011/2012
October 13, 2011
the future of the Living Room
In collaboration with Museum Geelvinck
November 3, 2011
the future of the Future
In collaboration with Gendo
January 26, 2012
the future of Film
In collaboration with the Freelance Factory
February 23, 2012
the future of Social Biomimicry
In collaboration with LvDO


Felix Bopp, Editor-in-Chief
Raphaelle Beguinel, Assistant Editor


Your comments, ideas, articles are welcome!
Please write to Felix Bopp, Editor-in-Chief:

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