Robots creating new language?

For full disclosure, I was pretty excited when I read the headline “Robots learn to create language“. I imagined a couple of Android logo lookalikes bleeping and blooping in a way that humans couldn’t decipher (and hopefully not planning to take over the world). Unfortunately, the concept didn’t quite live up to the headline.

Researchers in Queensland have built a couple of roaming robots, called Lingodroids, that are equipped with cameras, microphones, and speakers. They have been taught how to speak, but not given a language. They are currently ‘creating language’ by playing location games with each other. One of them decides on a meeting place. If it’s somewhere they perceive that they haven’t been before, they assign it a name based on random syllables. The location information and name are then passed on to the other robot. Otherwise, instructions for the meeting location are given in the ‘robot language’.

Now, I’m not saying that they’re categorically not making up language, but it seems like they’re just labelling places, and it could as easily have been done with letters or numbers or binary code. I want to know when they have started making up grammar and ways to talk about time and robot emotions.