Department of English Literature, Soochow University
[2021 Summer] Introduction to English Linguistics
August 8, 2021
In recent decades, we see an immense rise in rapid technology development, and humanity advancing at an unprecedented pace. As a result, more and more newly-introduced terms are created in response to the escalating need for new, emerging applications in the technology industry around the globe. This essay aims to collect words of significance from the technology industry, whose impact are so immense that they have greatly shaped our lives today, or will be shaping our lives tomorrow.
Alan Turing (1912-1954), now widely regarded as the father of contemporary theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence, was an English mathematician who was most famous for his contributions to computer science and cryptoanalysis of the German Enigma machine, a cipher machine used by Nazi Germany for radio communications during the Second World War. Due to Turing’s unprecedented achievements in fields such as mathematics and computer science, there is an abundance of eponyms of him. A large number of academic institutes, computational terms, machinery terms, and biological terms are named after him. Among his extensive legacy, one of his most-known legacies is the “Turing test” that no machine to date has beaten yet. Originally termed “the imitation game” by himself, the Turing test is a test used in evaluating a machine’s ability to display behaviors that best imitate a living human to the point that it is hard for humans to discern. Turing architecture is another application for eponym that is used by an American technology company in 2018 as the name for their next-generation computer graphics processing architecture, signifying the breakthrough in the technology packed in this new line of product. The Turing Award is given out by the Association for Computing Machinery annually for major contributions to the computer field and is widely referred to as “the Nobel Prize of Computing.” Alan Turing’s legacy also influenced areas outside of contemporary mathematics and computation; terms such as Alan Turing law, Turing’s Wager and Turing switch are eponym applications used in UK legislation, philosophy theories, and telecommunication theories respectively.
Alan Turing never saw the epic rise of computers in the 2000s, but his vision led to the invention of hyperlinks, the internet, semiconductors, and more—in fact, all of the aforementioned products, thanks to the advancement in technology, are also newly invented words that are involved in the morphological derivation, the process of forming a new word by adding prefixes or suffixes to existing ones. New words formed with this method have now emerged into our everyday lives, and sometimes without us really noticing. A wearable is an electronic device that can be worn and has various functions such as health monitoring and media playback; it is also formed by adding a suffix “-able” to “wear”. The word biometrics is formed with “bio-“ and “metrics” to mean “detailed measurement related to human body characteristics”, and this form of authentication is now widely implemented in our smartphones, laptops, and home security systems. The verb denoise has the root word of “noise” that is added the “de-“ prefix before it, literally meaning to remove the noise; “denoise” is a term used mainly in the photography and film industry to refer to the process of removing electronic noise introduced in developing digital images. Due to the pandemic and the dramatic obstruction in everyone’s working life that caused by it, some new words have become especially relevant in recent days. Contactless payments or deliveries are now broadly deployed among major businesses and cities to ensure transactions go as risk-free as possible. In fact, the delivery services nowadays are more crucial than ever, and some have transformed to even more tailored business models like microdelivery that can deliver even the most minute item to clients’ houses, be it a hat or a drink.
After the inception of artificial intelligence in the 1960s, mathematics, phycologists, and linguists alike raced to develop more elaborate and comprehensive papers on this subject. However, only around 2012 did the acronym AI became much more relevant. Today, though, it holds as much attention as its original form, only bigger thanks to its simple and catchy name. Aside from AI, there are several iconic acronyms from the technology world that are so influential that made themselves into the popular culture and letting more people know about them. One of the most famous, or rather the most infamous one, is the DDoS attack. DDoS is short for “Distributed Denial of Service”, a form of cyberattack that aims to cause networks to crash by distributing multiple computer systems to flood the target network. This form of “brute-forcing” cyberattack is very common in real life, and its impact has made its way into works of film and comic in the 2010s. A term that came into the spotlight around the same time is the IoT, or Internet of Things; IoT stands for physical objects that are embedded with electronic sensors or transmitters and are able to communicate and exchange data with other devices. Hotels, conference rooms, and event spaces can employ IoT solutions, programming every device in the room to work together smartly. Farms can automate the farming process by adapting to real-time information about the soil condition, rainfall, humidity, and command a set of machines to work in tandem. The wide range of applications for it is what makes it the word of tomorrow. The notion of “Internet as a platform for business” gave way to the rise of cryptocurrency and deep learning technologies in recent years as well, and many new terms emerged consequently. Words like bitcoin, blockchain, and NFT (non-fungible token) became technology media’s new favorite buzzwords; DL (deep learning) has now become a hot division under the subject of ML (machine learning) which studies the methods for computers to be self-taught over a set of algorithms, and it also seems to be the go-to course in universities in recent years. Technology startups and automakers all over the world compete to dominate the EV (electric vehicle) market with newer, more advanced LiDAR (light detection and ranging) and IVI (in-vehicle infotainment) systems. The future looks indeed promising.
Speaking of EVs, the progress this industry has made in the past decade has been remarkable. Internal combustion engines have dominated the world for a hundred years, and yet major car vendors now all face increasingly aggressive competition from alternative fuel vehicle startups, with EV startups being the most successful among which. With public awareness for a sustainable means of transportation raises, and governments incentivizing the investment and public adoption for EVs, companies like Tesla are able to shake the market by introducing competent, fully-electric candidates to the car market. As this newer form of vehicle enters our lives, it brings along a few new terms and ideas as well. EVs run on electricity, therefore they do not need an engine like gas cars do. This leaves them with a spacious empty room under the hood that is most commonly repurposed as a frunk, or “front trunk”—another kind of word formation that can often be seen in the EV industry. China, being a major player in this field, also invested heavily in the transition to a green state. Since 2020, Beijing has experimented with robotaxi services in May—a word formed by blending “robot” and “taxi” together. EV makers have also been implementing some degree of autopilot capabilities into their machines, a word that is created by combining the “auto” prefix to pilot. It was initially used among aircraft, but now apparently landing onto our vehicles as well. A car that achieves autopilot is essentially capable of full self-driving, or FSD, an acronym initially termed by leading car manufacturer Tesla, now broadly accepted among the EV industry.
Our technological capabilities have taken a huge leap over the last few decades, and as humanity continues to evolve, newer thinkers with better solutions will resolve what is deemed impossible today; better roads will be built to allow greener cars to go on them; smarter machines will grow plants and perform surgeries for us; more comprehensive AI algorithms will allow computers to calculate humanity’s next move that aligns with our best interest. Most importantly, people of tomorrow will come up with new terminology to name newer inventions, and there is little doubt that many words and phrases that are deemed commonplace in our era will be washed away and be completely forgotten many years later. But some words will sure remain to be around, whether because they bear a fundamental and vital meaning in the technology world, or because it is significant to preserve the legacies of extraordinary minds such as Alan Turing. Old and new words will coexist in a better future. The future in which Alan Turing’s “imitation game” is beaten by a machine—that is, if the term “machine” still applies to those creations of the future by then—is the time when humanity has created something that forever surpasses ourselves—a creation that indefinitely improves and expands upon itself. In the writer’s opinion, it would be the peak of humanity in terms of technological achievements and everything else. What form of communication will humans and “they” use then? What “language” and “words” will we adopt?