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What Is Conversation Theory?

By A. Leverkuhn
Updated May 23, 2024
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Conversation theory is the general study of how knowledge is constructed through interactions between parties. The parties involved can be human or non-human, including artificial intelligence entities. Conversation theory seeks to define how two parties come to a mutual understanding of concepts, or do other cognitive work through interaction.

Scientists describe conversation theory as a cybernetic discipline. Cybernetics involves the study of structures of regulation or meaning. Similar disciplines are referred to as information theory or control theory.

A dialectical approach is another term often used for conversation theory. A dialectic is a structure based on two opposing principles, ideas, or structures. In this case, the parties involved in conversation theory comprise the dialectical opposites. As in the generic dialectic process, the two parties, which are initially in a kind of antithesis, arrive at a synthesis through interaction.

Part of the theory of conversation is the search for stable reference points in communications. This helps scientists identify how meaning is gained through interactions. Those who are studying this communication of science might also create specific relationships between parties. For example, a conversational theory model could include a relationship referred to as a teacher-student relationship. Alternately, the two parties involved could be referred to as a generator and a responder, or their actions described as a dialectic of output and intake.

The theory of conversation also contemplates different types of conversation. This includes conversation based on natural language, such as humans would participate in between each other, or the use of technical languages like an object-oriented language or a meta-language; this would include items that are useful in computer programming and other kinds of technological work. Students of conversational theory might also examine concepts like libraries in their overall study of how meaning occurs between parties.

Overall, the theory of conversation is useful in informing many kinds of technologies. This idea, which was pioneered by Gordon Pask, has been useful, for example, in the concept of the “Turing test” or “Turing machine,” named after Alan Turing, where a machine’s competence is measured by how well it can mimic the conversation of a human. This kind of theory also works for creating decision support software or other kinds of decision assistive tools. Further research will help scientists be able to implement more robust versions of artificial intelligence that may create breakthroughs in many fields and industries.

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Discussion Comments
By Ana1234 — On Oct 05, 2014

@croydon - There's a really cool project that used to be going on in Europe (I don't know if it is still running) where they had computers set up that people could "talk" to and which, presumably, were capable of learning from those interactions.

I remember reading that they had them set up for a while so that anyone could interact with them, but the computers kept picking up swear words, so they had to stop.

By croydon — On Oct 05, 2014

@pastanaga - I've never been convinced by the Turing Test as a viable method of determining whether something is a true artificial intelligence anyway. With enough time and memory a person could compile a perfectly rigid program that was capable of answering almost any question in a convincing manner.

I think intelligence should be measured by the capacity for learning new information and connecting it to the information already there. Once a computer is able to do that on its own, then we will have the beginning's of intelligence. And that's really what conversation theory is about in some ways. Because the ability to pick up information from a spontaneous exchange with another intelligence is how we learn and presumably how computers will learn in the future as well.

By pastanaga — On Oct 04, 2014

I heard recently that the Turing test was finally passed by a computer program, but I've heard that more than once now and I have yet to be convinced. If they can write a program that is sophisticated enough to convince me that it is a fluent English speaking adult in a long and complicated conversation with no holds barred, then I'll consider it to be passed.

If you match people up with children or with people who don't speak English fluently you might get strange answers anyway and it's fair enough that a computer program could emulate that kind of confusion.

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