Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Image

US Intelligence Agency to Compile Mountain of Metaphors 151

Posted by samzenpus
from the bright-ideas dept.
coondoggie writes "Researchers with the US Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity want to build a repository of metaphors. You read that right. Not just American/English metaphors mind you but those of Iranian Farsi, Mexican Spanish and Russian speakers. Why metaphors? 'Metaphors have been known since Aristotle as poetic or rhetorical devices that are unique, creative instances of language artistry (for example: The world is a stage; Time is money). Over the last 30 years, metaphors have been shown to be pervasive in everyday language and to reveal how people in a culture define and understand the world around them,' IARPA says."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

US Intelligence Agency to Compile Mountain of Metaphors

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward

    can't differentiate "that shit is the bomb!" from "let's bomb that shit!".

    • by datapharmer (1099455) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @12:14PM (#36229072) Homepage
      Oh, I suspect they've had that one down for at least a couple decades. I think the issue is more along the lines of intentional obfuscation like "If things thaw any further the queen's gonna be entering the sunset years and even Lassie won't be able to find that well. I hear the winds of change are callin' Vinny to bring the misses on a fishing trip. Its going to be a fine boat ride all hook, line and 'sink-her.... hahaha'" The combination of mismatched metaphors makes it difficult for a computer to analyze the conversation effectively. While it is easy enough for the computer to flag it as suspicious it might be difficult to categorize in an automated fashion: is it about royalty, fishing, murder, weather, old television reruns or a pointless nonsense conversation?
      • by Anonymous Coward

        those combinations of metaphors make it difficult for me to analyze the conversation effectively.

  • Darmok and Jilad at Tanagra, anyone?
  • by Centurix (249778) <centurix&gmail,com> on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @10:11AM (#36227524) Homepage

    What we need here is a database of really bad analogies. Keep it somewhere safe.

    Imagine putting it in the locked glove compartment in a car.

  • by frisket (149522) <peter@nOSpam.silmaril.ie> on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @10:16AM (#36227584) Homepage

    Time is money

    Except that it's not. Money is a renewable resource: time isn't.

    • The fact that it is not literally true is what makes it a metaphor. The world is, in fact, not a stage.

    • by denzacar (181829) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @10:26AM (#36227708) Journal

      Time is money

      Except that it's not. Money is a renewable resource: time isn't.

      People taking metaphors and treating them like synonyms or taking the metaphorical figure of speech as literal meaning.
      And next thing you know, we're having holy wars, inquisition, genocide...

    • 1- when you no longer have any money, what do you need to make more ? some time ...

      2- money is time: taking the plane to somewhere is a lot faster (and more expensive) than hitch-hiking.

    • "Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so." - Ford Prefect
      • by AHuxley (892839)
        The US gov really wants to detect hints of:
        "When the money stops flowing down to the man in the street ..." (Gerald Celente)
        before smart people with no money and lots of free time ....
        This can save US taxpayers from putting "particular groups" in the wrong security context or seeing a real color revolution form without embassy minders.
        Say from keeping tabs on your blog via a gateway at a boring network operations centre to sneak and peek to ....
    • by houghi (78078)

      Great, another person who sees the word "is" and understands that it must be mathematical and meaning "identical to" .

      Get a clue [wikipedia.org]

      • by Tr3vin (1220548)
        I assumed he was setting time equal to money. If you were comparing the values to see if they are identical, you use the word "isis".
        • by lennier (44736)

          If you were comparing the values to see if they are identical, you use the word "isis".

          Osiris cries!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Not renewable?!? Then how come my clock keeps rolling back to 00:00:00 every night?

    • by Duradin (1261418)

      When you've got all the time in the world why would it matter that it's not renewable?

      Or are we going to need to start buying chronoton offsets?

    • Depends on what theory of the universe you believe in.

  • I can understand the desire to have metaphors for Iranian Farsi and Russian, to help keep a better watch on the governments in those two countries, but why Mexican Spanish? The only thing that comes to mind is the massive amount of drug trafficking in that country. It seems like Chinese would be a better language to focus on, given the worries that many people have about that country.
    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      You don't think that an intelligence agency would be interested in "how people in a culture define and understand the world around them" for pretty much every country in the world?

    • It seems like Chinese would be a better language to focus on, given the worries that many people have about that country.

      I'm afraid that Chinese is so foreign as to break the US Intelligence Advanced Research Projects model.

      I think Mexican Spanish is in focus because of physical proximity and the English-Spanish language barrier. The Canadian lingusitic border is a little more porous (until you reach Quebec...)

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      They get to vote in Mexico and understanding blogs could be an early warning to the US gov to spend more cash on their candidates.
      Work harder on smearing the far left or right option as the blogs and web 2.0 fill with real local news.
      Links with Communists, some dark military operation that was exposed years ago, a foreign cult giving out big cash gifts, extra homes and no taxes, strange bank accounts, extramarital issues ect. that would fit the "left" or "right".
      Mix as needed to ensure nothing changes.
    • I can understand the desire to have metaphors for Iranian Farsi and Russian, to help keep a better watch on the governments in those two countries, but why Mexican Spanish? The only thing that comes to mind is the massive amount of drug trafficking in that country. It seems like Chinese would be a better language to focus on, given the worries that many people have about that country.

      You are looking at this as if the only and only focus of this is on risk mitigation. It isn't (not to say that it is not *one* of the primary motives behind the study.)

      Metaphors are not just a function of language, but also culture and regional proximity. My take on this (and I could be wrong for all I know) is that these language variations (with the exception of Russian, all other three are variations), is that they are all Indo-European languages. They have shared structures, syntax and root words. All

      • My take on this (and I could be wrong for all I know) is that these language variations (with the exception of Russian, all other three are variations), is that they are all Indo-European languages.

        To quote myself and to clarify/correct a posting snafu - by "my take on this" I mean that these languages were chosen (out of a range of possible selections) because they are Indo-European languages that are not in extreme close proximity historically and culturally (among other factors.)

  • They should contact my grandfather, for he is himself the repository.

  • ... will not come to Muhammad
    Muhammad must go to the mountain.

  • http://wikilivres.info/wiki/Politics_and_the_English_Language

  • by Anonymous Coward

    'Metaphors have been known since Aristotle as poetic or rhetorical devices that are unique, creative instances of language artistry. Since they're unique, we can use them to fingerprint people using only text samples.'

  • Just in case i wasn't the only one in need of a basic grammar refresher [yahoo.com].

    While these three terms are related, their meanings are subtly different. To help understand the distinction, we consulted a number of sources -- American Heritage Dictionary, the Yahoo! Grammar, Usage, and Style category, and web search results for the three terms.

    The dictionary defines a "metaphor" as a figure of speech that uses one thing to mean another and makes a comparison between the two. For example, Shakespeare's line, "All th

    • If you want to understand what the project in TFA is about, you're going about it the wrong way by just looking up words in the dictionary. (And as an aside, why do people think that dictionaries are somehow sophisticated tools that will tell you the true answer to any question? They're just vague rough references about what somebody might mean by using a given word.)

      The right thing to look at here is Lakoff and Johnson's Conceptual Metaphor Theory [wikipedia.org], which (a) your dictionary doesn't cover, (b) is much m

  • 16th century French metaphors so you can decode the prophecies of Nostradamus

  • This idea is as stupid as... uhm... err... hmm.
  • Hm, the two examples are not really metaphors, except the word is used differnt in english than e.g. in german.

    (for example: The world is a stage; Time is money) This are only "dictums". A metapher e.g. is: "fiery snakes are crawling down the sky".

    As metaphores are invented on the fly it is pretty hard to make a meaningfull database of them.

    angel'o'sphere

    • As metaphores are invented on the fly it is pretty hard to make a meaningfull database of them.

      Most speakers don't invent on the fly, most speakers parrot things they have heard before.

  • by itsdapead (734413) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @10:48AM (#36228016)

    Fiddling while Rome burns?

    Rearranging the deckchairs on the boat-deck of the Titanic?

    Alphabetizing your record collection?

    The Devil making work for Idle hands?

    Living in ivory towers?

    The mice playing while the cat is away?

    Counting the number of angels that can dance on a pinhead?

  • I'm bit disappointed, it's the current one even ..
    XKCD [xkcd.com]

    • by ginbot462 (626023)

      I meant "I'm [a] bit disappointed [nobody on slashdot posted it yet]". I'll just shutup now.

  • Seems nice. A very geeky interest in something ... humm... I am going to say interesting, but probably I am a nerd, and I like these things for different reasons.
    I would love to have access to this data, once is collected :D

  • by RandCraw (1047302) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @10:57AM (#36228114)

    The OA quotes IARPA (DARPA for intelligence gathering):

    "For decision makers to be effective in a world of mass communication and global interaction, they must understand the shared concepts and worldviews of members of other cultures of interest."

    Horse hockey.

    No computer can help a human understand a simile, much less an abstraction that's often in the guise of a complex historical or literary reference (i.e. metaphor). So what is the *real* purpose for this 5 year spy program?

    First, metaphors are a great identifier of individual writing styles. The trick though is to recognize *when* a word is being used as a metaphor. Tagging a word like 'lion' as trackworthy works only when you know when the word was not meant literally.

    Second, and more likely, from snippets of some of Bin Laden's recently unearthed messages, it's clear that Al-Qaeda is using metaphorical code phrases to refer to plans and goals rather than explicit sentences. Part of this program is probably intended to recognize syntactic (and maybe semantic) variations on a given metaphor so it can be recognized and tracked across multiple messages from different people.

    So despite IARPA's dumbass lie about 'encouraging greater cultural understanding', this is yet another signals intelligence target tracking program.

    • No computer can help a human understand a simile, much less an abstraction that's often in the guise of a complex historical or literary reference (i.e. metaphor).

      IBM might dispute that, now that Watson's won at Jeopardy.

    • Metaphors aren't just linguistic expressions or indicators of writing styles. Very often, linguistic metaphors are indicators of how people conceptualize the world. For example, people have spacial metaphors in their brains for concepts like "time" that are indicated by expressions like "going forward".

      One interesting example of how cognitive metaphors shape or reflect worldviews is the current budget debate in the United States. Very often, proponents of austerity will use "family" metaphors to make their

      • by adrn01 (103810)
        Might not a better understanding of how a culture uses metaphors make it easier to create NEW metaphors to push a particular idea?
        • by void*p (899835)

          Might not a better understanding of how a culture uses metaphors make it easier to create NEW metaphors to push a particular idea?

          Absolutely. The term "framing" that is now so often used in discussions about political messaging actually comes from cognitive science.

  • This is most likelly meant to improve automated processing of intercepted messages.

    People trying to communicate over a non-encrypted channel which have secrets they want to keep from well funded state agents KNOW that pretty much any and all conversations on an insecure channel are monitored and automatically processed (in fact, thanks to government mandated secret backdoors and weaknesses in cryptographic implementations, probably many "secure" channels are monitored).

    I suspect that, outside the cases were

    • by gront (594175)
      It's probably safe to assume they would correlate frequency of metaphor use and the specific metaphors used to identify individuals as a source of a given message. I think they did something similar with the unibomber, odd phrases helped to show the messages were from a single source.
  • I just want to say, that for once, the title was well chosen.
  • . . . to make a mountain of metaphors out of a molehill.
  • "Over the last 30 years, metaphors have been shown to be pervasive in everyday language and to reveal how people in a culture define and understand the world around them"

    Shouldn't that read "Over the last 30,000 years"?

  • It's time to make like a tree, and get the fuck outta here!
  • How exactly is this going to help in the war against pedoterrorists ?
  • I think they've bitten off more than they can chew. Practically anything can be a metaphor for something, and language is not static, so that these things ebb and flow like the tide. I do not think this project will be successful.

    But, assuming it is successful (or at least those with the technology believe it is successful), what purpose does this really serve? My gut tells me that it will be used to sway public opinion on issues.

    Perhaps I'm just paranoid.

    • Practically anything can be a metaphor for something

      I have a US Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity in my pants, if you know what I mean.

      And I think you (and the US Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity) know what I mean.

  • by AugstWest (79042) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @11:57AM (#36228842)

    I can't imagine the volume of data that the intelligence agencies must weed through, especially if they're monitoring text or voice-to-text.

    Skipping over things like "beat some sense into him," or "bringing a knife to a gun fight," or the somewhat infamous "O'Keeffe & Company delivers a rifle shot at critical business, technology, and investment audiences," or even just flagging them as possible metaphors, would be incredibly helpful.

    I can only imagine how difficult this would be when monitoring other cultures, languages, idioms, etc. I hope they make this database public, although it's a dim hope. It'd be a great trove of cultural information for the entire planet, not just intelligence agencies.

  • No human could make sense of so much chatter, but an AI that understood everything about slang could.
    Because when I think of armies, I think of ... artistry.

  • They need to go look at their own existing DBs--most cover of them are organized by dialects, which typically include metaphors since it maybe a way to classify the language(s) for intel reasons.

  • Using the same formatting a human can get his message across anyways. To try to fix this would be like "trying to close the stable door after the critters have vamoosed". or "tossing the kid out with the tubwater". now those examples probably won't trigger the keyword search form barn door and horses. or baby and bathwater. Now apply that to something more nasty, like "that fella needs a be introduced to a bucket of hot road tar and what you pluck from a chicken"

  • Almost twenty years ago I published a large compilation of cliches.

    I thought people would use this database to help quat their cliched writing.

    It turned out that its principal use was to search for and to verify the spelling of cliches that writers wanted to add to their writing.

    *face palm*

  • This is news? I'm no expert but it seems this is an obvious* prerequisite for adequate translation software. And lots of people are working on that. *50 years ago this maybe wasn't obvious. At some time it became obvious: not so recently as the last decade.

We can predict everything, except the future.

Working...