Some natural language applications
Improving the man-machine interfaceYou
might still need some convincing that programming is
for you if your interests are more in practical applications than in abstract
even straight linguistic description. In that case all you need to do is look
you. It is no accident that computer scientists are increasingly attracted
by the mechanisms of language understanding and production and that, for
their part, linguists are beginning
to take advantage of the insights offered by computational approaches to their
The fact is that with computers becoming more and
more a necessary feature of our everday lives there is an ever growing need
to assimilate them into our normal patterns of behaviour and the surest way to
this is by providing modes of interaction (interfaces) which are as much
like inter-human communication as possible. Ideally, then, a computer should
you and talk back to
you in your native language.
Some shorter term goals
Man-machine communication using natural language has, of course, been
a long-running dream, but the idea is no longer quite the distant fantasy
it was in 1968 when Kubrick gave voice to HAL.
Although, nearer the millenium, we can see that 2001 was too optimistic a
for even a passable realisation of the intelligent talking machine,
there is no doubt that significant progress is being made on a
range of smaller scale projects which can be seen as part of the grand plan.
Here are some examples of the kinds of task being worked on
by a growing band of computer scientists, linguists, and others:
- automatic indexation of documents
- automatic retrieval of information from books and articles
- automatic production of abstracts (précis of) texts
- using natural language queries to search on-line databases
- document correction (covering spelling, grammar and style)
- voice control of equipment (for situations where hands are unavailable or
- scanning printed texts into computer files (optical character recognition)
- saving storage space by compressing text or speech files
- identification of speakers by voice (for security control, for instance)
- development of intelligent tutoring systems
provision of aids for the handicapped (e,g,writing aids using prediction to cut
down on typing).
There are already applications meeting more or less well
some of these needs. There is also
no doubt that there is vast room for the improvement of existing software
and for extending the range of applications provided.
It is not difficult
to see that this overall programme naturally forms a major component of
science research. At the same time it is obvious that, since work on all
of these projects in one way or another necessitates explicit accounts of
structure, the range of potential real world applications provides linguists
to test their
theoretical models of language by implementing them computationally.