An intriguing paper titled “A Theory of Goal-Oriented Communication” by Oded Goldreich, Brendan Juba, and Madhu Sudan has recently been uploaded to the ECCC, expanding a line of work started by the last two authors here and here. The basic issue studied is how is it possible to effectively communicate without agreeing on a language in advance. The basic result obtained is that, as long as the parties can “sense” whether some progress is made toward their goals, prior agreement about a language is not necessary and a “universal” protocol exists. My nerdier side cannot help but thinking about the application to communicating with an alien species (which I bet the authors did not mention on purpose.)
It is obviously hard to tell yet whether this is a beginning of a great new intellectual journey or just a blind alley but, In any case, I suppose that this is the kind of work sought by the ICS conference. Despite the game-theoretic-sounding notion of the goals of the communicating parties that underlines the model, conspicuously absent are notions of rationality.