Language has undertaken a brave and remarkable journey to reach where we are today. But what about tomorrow? What will language look, sound and feel like in our future?

In the 21st century, language evolution is now being steered by a world where the way we communicate is overwhelmingly digital.

While we at Hercules believe language is more than just words, increasingly, our pursuit of technological advancement is meaning words are lots in a vast cyberspace that while making the world closer, also makes us less personal.

The language of tomorrow will be fraught with tension between efficiency and emotion, humanity and economy, as tech companies race to be the best at constructing communication for us.

Google in 2018 rolled out the beta of their Gmail autofill algorithm. The algorithm reads your emails as you type them and offers suggested conclusions to your sentences.

Type in the letters “t”, “h” and “a”, and the autofill algorithm will prompt you with “Thank you for your email.” In fact, the algorithm even offers autoreplies to emails. By reading incoming mail, the algorithm generates three possible replies you can choose from with just one click, without so much as a keystroke on your part.

Sounds neat?

While such tools reduce time spent composing emails, it also, to an extent, reduces our humanity – the individual flair in prose taught in life experiences, culture and state of being. In the future, will all our emails be some variation of three-word, Google-generated replies?

Despite the appeal in deferring to artificial intelligence to generate communication for us, this laissez faire ownership of our language can strip our correspondence of personality.

Big tech aren’t the only ones experimenting with infusing our lives with code-generated communication. While Google and Facebook try to replace our human correspondence with autogenerated, bot-written emails, what we read is also falling to the hands – or rather hard drives – of computers as well.

The multi-award-winning global news wire, Associated Press, was the first to announce in 2014 that it would use a computer program instead of human journalists to write certain new coverage.

The program, developed by US-based company Automated Insights, automatically generates an article based on data, like a stock market number, sports score or weather data. USA Today and Yahoo News also use bots instead of live reporters, much to the chagrin of seasoned newsmen and women. In 2016, Automated Insights produced over 1.5 billion pieces of content – more than was written in the same period by all the human journalists of the world combined.

This kind of productivity from AI language generators is astounding, and the degree to which it has already permeated our everyday lives is even more astonishing.

Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant are omnipresent eavesdroppers we have willingly brought into our homes. The devices respond to our questions and banter, but also listen in on our lives, offering insights to their true masters – the commercial behemoths behind their invention, eager to take advantage of intimate marketing opportunities.

That being said, technology has also enabled us to unlock communication across languages. While Google wants to write your emails for your, it is also able to instantaneously translate them, meaning speakers of two different languages are equipped with a powerful written way to communicate.

The popularity of emojis cut across all language barriers, unexpectedly uniting social media users of all tongues.

Despite the many facets of technology, positively received or otherwise, we see that speed and thrift do not always produce the kind of resonating messaging that makes an impact when it comes to PR and advertising campaigns. Time and time again we have seen that old-fashioned storytelling is overwhelmingly the preference of an increasingly nuanced and discerning market.

What makes language so important ultimately is the red-bloodedness of human connection – bringing on feelings of intimacy, thoughtfulness and emotion that could never be authentically replicated. Indeed, as we invest more and more in making our robots sound like humans, the effect is that more and more humans are sounding like robots.

But language will always unfold and bring us new surprises, curiosities, and stories.

For most of the world’s most ubiquitous languages, the current use and tonality is the result of hundreds of years of evolution. And there is no reason to doubt this evolution will cease. If anything, the fluidity of communications facilitated by the internet and social media is likely to increase the rate of evolution of language.

Every year our dictionaries add new words to the official record of our lexicon. In 2018, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary – the reputed chronical of the English language added more than 1,000 new words. Including GOAT as a word (previously considered a mere acronym, standing for ‘Greatest Of All Time’), ‘bingeable’ (we have Netflix to thank for that one), ‘cryptocurrency’ (thanks Bitcoin), and a suite of what were previously considered abbreviations, but now boast fully-anointed ‘word’ status (such as ‘fav’ for ‘favorite’, ‘adorbs’ for ‘adorable’).

UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages says: Languages are not only tools of communication; they also reflect a view of the world. Languages are vehicles of value systems and cultural expressions and are an essential component of the living heritage of humanity.

While the technology of tomorrow will offer new ways to unlock language, and language itself will continue to evolve, shift and flourish, our words will always remain the heart of our identity.

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