We organize weekly AI meetings (KUIS AI Talks) both on zoom and in person. We hold these events every Tuesday from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm unless otherwise noted. We have guests from various universities and industries all over the world. Also, our graduate students present their progress some weeks. If you want to join us in these meetings, please email us at for the zoom info. 

April 4, 2023

Anna Ivanova (MIT) & Kyle Mahowald (UT at Austin)

The Difference between Language and Thought

Today’s large language models (LLMs) routinely generate coherent, grammatical and seemingly meaningful paragraphs of text. This achievement has led to speculation that these models are—or will soon become—“thinking machines”, capable of performing tasks that require abstract knowledge and reasoning. In this talk, I will argue that, when evaluating LLMs, we should distinguish between their formal linguistic competence—knowledge of linguistic rules and patterns—and functional linguistic competence—understanding and using language in the world. This distinction stems from modern neuroscience research, which shows that these skills recruit different mechanisms in the human brain. I will show that, although LLMs are close to mastering formal linguistic competence, they still fail at many functional competence tasks, which require drawing on various non-linguistic cognitive skills. Finally, I will discuss why we humans are so tempted to mistake fluent speech for fluent thought.