Advisory Board

Dr. John R. Elliott

The Telegraph article Scientist develops programme to understand alien languages said

A computer programme which could help identify and even translate messages from aliens in outer space has been developed by a British scientist.
Even if there are extra terrestrials are one day discovered, scientists fear their alien tongue may make it impossible to understand them.
But John Elliott of Leeds Metropolitan University believes he has come up with software which at least will decipher the structure of their language — and be the first step in understanding what they are saying.
Dr Elliott’s programme would compare an alien language to a database of 60 different languages in the world to search see if it has a similar structure.

Arthur C. Clarke said the following about John Elliott:

I believe your work is of great importance and hope it results in some positive findings in my lifetime.

John R. Elliott, Ph.D. is Reader in Intelligence Engineering, Innovation North – Faculty of Information and Technology, Leeds Metropolitan University, UK.
John helped organize the first dedicated SETI Conference, which was hosted by the International Academy of Astronautics (22–26 September 2008, Searching for Life Signatures, Paris, France) and he will be chairing the SETI II session at the International Astronautics Congress in Glasgow. In addition to conference organization, he is the editor of a forthcoming special edition of the journal “Acta Astronautica” on SETI.
His main area of interest is in the field of unsupervised natural language learning. In particular, the search for generic human and inter-species language universals to devise computational methods by which language can be discriminated from non-language and core structural syntactic elements of unknown languages can be detected. Aims of this research include: contributing to the understanding of language structure and the detection of intelligent language-like features in signals, to aid the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence.
For his PhD, he investigated and developed purely computational approaches to identify language structure at its varying levels of abstraction: from its physical level to the parts-of-speech, which encode internal and external ontologies. The results of his work will hopefully contribute towards the decoding of unknown languages, whether terrestrial or extra-terrestrial and a better understanding of what language structure actually is.
John’s research draws from and incorporates many disciplines, which include: computational linguistics, linguistics, information theory, computer visualization, psychology, neuroscience, and statistics. It is by using such a multi-disciplinary approach, which he believes is essential in attacking such a problem, that he will hopefully contribute and ultimately answer some of the questions.
He coauthored Is Anybody Out There? The Detection of Intelligent and Generic Language-Like Features, A corpus for interstellar communication, Increasing our Ignorance of Language: Identifying Language Structure in an Unknown “Signal”, Corpus Linguistics, Machine Learning and Evaluation: Views from Leeds, Language identification in unknown signals, and Visualization of Long Distance Grammatical Collocation Patterns in Language, and authored Using Comparable Corpora for Discovering Universals in Surface Structure.
John earned his BSc (Honors) in Information Systems with Artificial Intelligence at the University of Leeds in 1998. He earned his MSc in Distributed Multimedia Systems at the University of Leeds in 1999. He earned his PhD in Computational Linguistics at the University of Leeds in 2003 where he focused on language universals and language discovery.