Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Quickies: A Problem In Natural-Language Processing

     A famous example of how much context matters to the interpretation of a “simple” communication goes like this: A standard “nuclear family” – husband, wife, two minor children – is depicted with the wife saying to the husband, “We’ll have cake as soon as the children wash their hands.”

     To whom is the wife really speaking? What is the actually intended audience, and what is the true intended consequence?

     That one is fairly obvious, yet it would be difficult for a software language processor to decode. A lot of context is required to make sense of it, yet we Mark One humans would have no difficulty figuring out what’s really being said and to whom. That includes the postulated minor children.

     Here’s another from just this morning. While getting ready to leave for work, the C.S.O. said to me, “I’ll get my contacts after work.”

     I can think of three different ways to interpret that statement, only one of which is consistent with the context. How many ways could you interpret it – and what are the odds against a program getting it right?

1 comment:

Maddog said...

As an associate attorney in a sweatshop law firm, my mentoring partner would poke his head into my office on Friday and say, "Here are a couple of new files, luckily we have two working days till Monday when I need the Initial File Review letter to go out."

There was only one way to interpret this statement. I was working 12 days through the weekend.

The "we" was royal, and I was working, he was not. How we interpret language matters.

Mark Sherman