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Computers Soon to Understand Human Language?

HAL_9000

Do you remember the computer HAL 9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s 1960’s science fiction film “2001 A Space Odyssey”? Forget the fact that it went a bit OTT and mission crazy towards the end, one of the interesting things about HAL (which stood for Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer) was that it could understand and converse in English. No need for inputting via a keyboard, or translation into machine code.  Think  “lexical semantics”.

Ever since the release of the film linguists and computer scientists have tried to get computers to understand human language by programming the semantics of language as software.  We already have programmes that can understand and distinguish numbers and certain words on our mobiles, when we pay bills over the phone,  and even in computer games, but  a computer that can understand and be fluent in a human language has eluded us.

That may be changing- a University of Texas at Austin linguistics Professor, Katrin Erk, is using supercomputers to develop a new method for helping computers learn natural language.

Katrin Erk

Instead of hard-coding human logic or deciphering dictionaries to try to teach computers language, Erk decided to try a different tactic: feed computers a vast body of texts (as an input of human knowledge) and use the implicit connections between the words to create a map of relationships.

Erk says:

“An intuition for me was that you could visualize the different meanings of a word as points in space. You could think of them as sometimes far apart, like a battery charge and criminal charges, and sometimes close together, like criminal charges and accusations (“the newspaper published charges…”). The meaning of a word in a particular context is a point in this space. Then we don’t have to say how many senses a word has. Instead we say: ‘This use of the word is close to this usage in another sentence, but far away from the third use.'”

I have to say that as a human, I had some trouble getting my head round that quote! Perhaps we should be looking at how babies learn language and try to replicate that learning in a computer.  But back to Erk’s work, to create a model that can accurately recreate the intuitive ability to distinguish word meaning will require a lot of text and a lot of analytical crunching power.

Erk again:

“The lower end for this kind of a research is a text collection of 100 million words. If you can give me a few billion words, I’d be much happier. But how can we process all of that information? That’s where supercomputers come in.”

So we need a mega computer to help us devise a computer that will not only understand us, but communicate intelligently with us. If this could be achieved, how close wiuld such a computer be to a sentient entity? What if it’s first words to us once we switch on this fully loaded language-conversant computer are “I’m hungry”!   Well, as long it doesn’t start singing “Daisy Daisy” and switching off life support systems… But perhaps HAL 9001 will be better behaved.

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3 thoughts on “Computers Soon to Understand Human Language?

  1. Pingback: Panasonic Integrated Ovens | Electric Kettles Guide

  2. Because computers are degeinsd to do a variety of things while a platform is degeinsd for one purpose only. They also are degeinsd to run on your HD tv which has a better resolution than the common computer CRT/monitor. The more lines of information you can get on the screen the crisper, clearer the image its not just processor or bit size. Even if you made a game with the same 128-bit graphics, without a screen that can handle that much info, or renew the monitor lines, it will still look really bad! Attach a PS3 to an old color tv and you will see the quality drop as well.Now why do you have to buy seperate games for each platform? The same reason you have to buy seperate programs for Win Mac different languages, different ways of reading the info. You can find emulators for some platforms which will allow you to play your disked games on your PC, but the quality is low because of the nature of your computer to do so many things at once whether you know of it or not). PC games rely on your computer to keep certain programs for multiple use so disks don’t need to store that data (such as Quicktime, macromedia, etc) that’s why you can have Win/Mac disks Platform disks need to carry all that information for EACH game, which takes up so much room they couldn’t put a second game language on there if they wanted to. Some PC games are switching to DVD formats, in some cases it helps resolution but mostly it just keeps you from having to do the floppy disk shuffle but still it would not hold enough information to get more than one platform on them.

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  3. Thanks for taking the time to share this, I feel solntgry about it and love reading more on this topic. If possible, as you gain knowledge, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful for me.

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    VA:F [1.9.11_1134]

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