12th Annual Conference of the International Speech Communication Association

Florence, Italy
August 27-31. 2011

Signals and Speech

Alex Pentland


How did humans coordinate before we had sophisticated language capabilities? Pre-linguistic social species coordinate by signaling, and in particular `honest signals' which actually cause changes in the listener. I will present examples of human behaviors that are likely honest signals, and show that they can be used to predict the outcomes of dyadic interactions (dating, negotiation, trust assessment, etc.) with an average accuracy of 80%. Patterns of signaling also allow accurate identification of social and task roles in small groups, predict task performance in small groups, guide team formation, and understand aspects of organizational performance. These experiments suggest that modern language evolved `on top' of ancient signaling mechanisms, and that today linguistic and signaling mechanisms operate in parallel.


Professor Alex 'Sandy' Pentland is a pioneer in computational social science, organizational engineering, and mobile information systems. He directs the MIT Human Dynamics Lab, developing computational social science and using this new science to guide organizational engineering. He also directs the Media Lab Entrepreneurship Program, spinning off companies to bring MIT technologies into the real world. He is among the most-cited computer scientists in the world. His most recent book is `Honest Signals' published by MIT Press.

Full Paper

Bibliographic reference.  Pentland, Alex (2011): "Signals and speech", In INTERSPEECH-2011, 1-4.