Natural Language Processing

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Words mean nothing to me…

It may seem odd to the uninitiated but language – that most human of inventions – is also a core topic of computer science. Language isn’t just the thing that makes computers tick. A lot of exciting computer
science helps them work with human languages. Since the early days of computers we have mainly been forced to communicate with them in special languages that made it easy for them. Our words, our languages mean nothing to a computer….unless we can write programs that give them meaning. Now they increasingly speak our languages. This is the research area of natural language processing: writing programs that allow computers to truly understand what we say and to communicate back with us in our own languages. From chatbots, to programs writing love letters, doing translation or even writing stories, the computers are getting better and better at languages.

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Meet the chatbots

Sitting down and having a nice chat with a computer probably isn’t something you do every day. You may never have done it. We mainly still think of it as being a dream for the future. But there is lots of work being done to make it happen in the present, and the idea has roots that stretch far back into the past. It’s a dream that goes back to Alan Turing, and then even a little further to a Victorian party game…. (read on).

The Paranoid program

One of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s most memorable characters was Marvin the Paranoid Android. He wasn’t actually paranoid though, just depressed. One of the first real computer programs to be able to converse with humans, PARRY, did aim to make therapists think it was paranoid … (read on)

Chatbot or Cheatbot?

The chatbots have suddenly got everyone talking, though about them as much as with them. Why? Because one, chatGPT has (amongst other things) reached the level of being able to fool us into thinking that it is a pretty good student. …(read on)

The algorithm that could not speaks its name

The first program that was actually creative was probably written by Christopher Strachey, in 1952. It wrote love letters…possibly gay ones… (read on).

The machines can translate now

The Rosetta stone

“The Machines can translate now…
…I SAID ‘THE MACHINES CAN TRANSLATE NOW’”. The stereotype of the Englishman abroad when confronted by someone who doesn’t speak English is just to say it louder. That could soon be a thing of the past as portable devices start to gain speech recognition skills and as the machines get better at translating between languages... (read on).

Can a computer tell a good story?

Cartoon image depicting a Mexica (Aztec) warrior such as a Jaguar Knight

What’s your favourite story? Perhaps it’s from a brilliant book you’ve read: a classic like Pride and Prejudice or maybe Twilight, His Dark Materials or a Percy Jackson story? Maybe it’s a creepy tale you heard round a campfire, or a favourite bedtime story from when you were a toddler? Could your favourite story have actually been written by a machine? ... (read on).

The Chinese room: zombie attack!

Colourful jigsaw brain with pieces missing

Could we ever create a machine with a mind that really thinks? Philosophers have been arguing about it for centuries. Philosopher John Searle’s ‘Chinese room’ thought experiment supposedly gives a cast iron argument that programmed ‘Minds’ can never exist. Are the computer scientists who are trying to build real Minds wasting their time? Or could zombies lurch to the rescue? ... (read on).

Only the fittest slogans survive

Manufacturing machine with conveyor belt
image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Marketing people are paid vast amounts to come up with slogans for new products. Coming up with great slogans that people will remember for years needs both a mastery of language and a creative streak too. Algorithms are now getting in on the act too. Only the fittest slogans survive! ... (read on).

Diamond Dogs

Portrait of Bowie

Rock star David Bowie jointly wrote a program that chopped up sentences that helped him devise lyrics ! ... (read on).

The joke Turing Test

Smirking cabbage

Laugh and the world laughs with you they say, but what if you’re a computer. Can a computer have a ‘sense of humour’? Can you tell which joke was written by a computer and which by a human ... (read on).

The last speaker

The languages of the world are going extinct at a rapid rate. As the numbers of people who still speak a language dwindle, the chance of it surviving dwindles too. As the last person dies, the language is gone forever. Could AI chatbots help preserve spoken languages ... (read on).

More to come …


This page was funded by UKRI, through grant EP/W033615/1.