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Essay/Term paper: Natural language processing

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Information Technology

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Natural Language Processing

There have been high hopes for Natural Language Processing. Natural
Language Processing, also known simply as NLP, is part of the broader field of
Artificial Intelligence, the effort towards making machines think. Computers may
appear intelligent as they crunch numbers and process information with blazing
speed. In truth, computers are nothing but dumb slaves who only understand on or
off and are limited to exact instructions. But since the invention of the
computer, scientists have been attempting to make computers not only appear
intelligent but be intelligent. A truly intelligent computer would not be
limited to rigid computer language commands, but instead be able to process and
understand the English language. This is the concept behind Natural Language
The phases a message would go through during NLP would consist of
message, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and intended meaning. (M. A. Fischer,
1987) Syntax is the grammatical structure. Semantics is the literal meaning.
Pragmatics is world knowledge, knowledge of the context, and a model of the
sender. When syntax, semantics, and pragmatics are applied, accurate Natural
Language Processing will exist.
Alan Turing predicted of NLP in 1950 (Daniel Crevier, 1994, page 9):
"I believe that in about fifty years' time it will be possible to
program computers .... to make them play the imitation game so well that an
average interrogator will not have more than 70 per cent chance of making the
right identification after five minutes of questioning."
But in 1950, the current computer technology was limited. Because of
these limitations, NLP programs of that day focused on exploiting the strengths
the computers did have. For example, a program called SYNTHEX tried to determine
the meaning of sentences by looking up each word in its encyclopedia. Another
early approach was Noam Chomsky's at MIT. He believed that language could be
analyzed without any reference to semantics or pragmatics, just by simply
looking at the syntax. Both of these techniques did not work. Scientists
realized that their Artificial Intelligence programs did not think like people
do and since people are much more intelligent than those programs they decided
to make their programs think more closely like a person would. So in the late
1950s, scientists shifted from trying to exploit the capabilities of computers
to trying to emulate the human brain. (Daniel Crevier, 1994)
Ross Quillian at Carnegie Mellon wanted to try to program the
associative aspects of human memory to create better NLP programs. (Daniel
Crevier, 1994) Quillian's idea was to determine the meaning of a word by the
words around it. For example, look at these sentences: After the strike, the
president sent him away. After the strike, the umpire sent him away. Even though
these sentences are the same except for one word, they have very different
meaning because of the meaning of the word "strike". Quillian said the meaning
of strike should be determined by looking at the subject. In the first sentence,
the word "president" makes the word "strike" mean labor dispute. In the second
sentence, the word "umpire" makes the word "strike" mean that a batter has swung
at a baseball and missed.
In 1958, Joseph Weizenbaum had a different approach to Artificial
Intelligence, which he discusses in this quote (Daniel Crevier, 1994, page 133):
"Around 1958, I published my first paper, in the commercial magazine
Datamation. I had written a program that could play a game called "five in a
row." It's like ticktacktoe, except you need rows of five exes or noughts to win.
It's also played on an unbounded board; ordinary coordinate will do. The program
used a ridiculously simple strategy with no look ahead, but it could beat anyone
who played at the same naive level. Since most people had never played the game
before, that included just about everybody. Significantly, the paper was
entitled: "How to Make a Computer Appear Intelligent" with appear emphasized. In
a way, that was a forerunner to my later ELIZA, to establish my status as a
charlatan or con man. But the other side of the coin was that I freely started
it. The idea was to create the powerful illusion that the computer was
intelligent. I went to considerable trouble in the paper to explain that there
wasn't much behind the scenes, that the machine wasn't thinking. I explained the
strategy well enough that anybody could write that program, which is the same
thing I did with ELIZA."
ELIZA was a program written by Joe Weizenbaum which communicated to its
user while impersonating a psychotherapist. Weizenbaum wrote the program to
demonstrate the tricky alternatives to having programs look at syntax, semantics,
or pragmatics. One of ELIZA's tricks was mirroring sentences. Another trick was
to pick a sentence from earlier in the dialogue and return it attached to a
leading phrase at random intervals Also, ELIZA would watch for a list of key
words, transform it in some way, and return it attached to a leading sentence.
These tricks worked well under the context of a psychiatrist who encourages
patients to talk about their problems and answers their questions with other
questions. However, these same tricks do not work well in other situations.
In 1970, William Wood, AI researcher at Bolt, Beranek, and Newman,
described an NLP method called Augmented Transition Network. (Daniel Crevier,
1994) Their idea was to look at the case of the word: agent (instigator of an
event), instrument (stimulus or immediate physical cause of an event), and
experiencer (undergoes effect of the action). To tell the case, Filmore put
restrictions on the cases such as an agent had to be animate. For example, in
"The heat is baking the cake", cake is inanimate and therefor the experiencer.
Heat would be the instrument. An ATN could mix syntax rules with semantic props
such as knowing a cake is inanimate. This worked out better than any other NLP
technique to date. ATNs are still used in most modern NLPs.
Roger Schank, Stanford researcher (Daniel Crevier, 1994, page 167):
"Our aim was to write programs that would concentrate on crucial
differences in meaning, not on issues of grammatical structure .... We used
whatever grammatical rules were necessary in our quest to extract meanings from
sentences but, to our surprise, little grammar proved to be relevant for
translating sentences into a system of conceptual representations."
Schank reduced all verbs to 11 basic acts. Some of them are ATRANS (to
transfer an abstract relationship), PTRANS (to transfer the physical location of
an object), PROPEL (to apply physical force to an object), MOVE (for its owner
to move a body part), MTRANS (to transfer mental information), and MBUILD (to
build new information out of old information). Schank called these basic acts
semantic primitives. When his program saw in a sentence words usually relating
to the transfer of possession (such as give, buy, sell, donate, etc.) it would
search for the normal props of ATRANS: the object being transferred, its
receiver and original owner, the means of transfer, and so on If the program
didn't find these props, it would try another possible meaning of the verb.
After successfully determining the meaning of the verb, the program would make
inferences associated with the semantic primitive. For example, an ATRANS rule
might be that if someone gets something they want, they may be happy about it
and may use it. (Daniel Crevier, 1994)
Schank implemented his idea of conceptual dependency in a program called
MARGIE (memory, analysis, response generation in English.) MARGIE was a program
that analyzed English sentences, turned them into semantic representations, and
generated inferences from them. Take for example: "John went to a restaurant. He
ordered a hamburger. It was cold when the waitress brought it. He left her a
very small tip." MARGIE didn't work. Schank and his colleagues found that "any
single sentence lends itself to so many plausible inferences that it was
impossible to isolate those pertinent to the next sentence." For example, from
"It was cold when the waitress brought it" MARGIE might say "The hamburger's
temperature was between 75 and 90 degrees, The waitress brought the hamburger on
a plate, She put the plate on a table, etc." The inference that cold food makes
people unhappy would be so far down the line that it wouldn't be looked at and
as a result MARGIE wouldn't have understood the story well enough to answer the
question, "Why did John leave a small tip?" While MARGIE applied syntax and
semantics well, it forgot about pragmatics. To solve this problem, Schank moved
to Yale and teamed up with Professor of Psychology Robert Abelson. They realized
that most of our everyday activities are linked together in chains which they
called "scripts." (Daniel Crevier, 1994)
In 1975, SAM (Script Applied Mechanism), written by Richard Cullingford,
used an automobile accident script to make sense out of newspaper reports of
them. SAM built internal representations of the articles using semantic
primitives. SAM was the first working natural language processing program. SAM
successfully went from message to intended meaning because it successfully
implemented the steps in-between - syntax, semantics, and pragmatics.
Despite the success of SAM, Schank said "real understanding requires the
ability to establish connections between pieces of information for which no
prescribed set of rules, or scripts, exist." (Daniel Crevier, 1994, page 167) So
Robert Wilensky created PAM (Plan Applier Mechanism). PAM interpreted stories by
linking sentences together through a character's goals and plans. Here is an
example of PAM (Daniel Crevier, 1994):
John wanted money. He got a gun and walked into a liquor store. He told
the owner he wanted some money. The owner gave John the money and John left.
In the process of understanding the story, PAM put itself in the shoes
of the participants. From John's point of view:
I needed to get some dough. So I got myself this gun, and I walked down
to the liquor store. I told the shopkeeper that if he didn't let me have the
money then I would shoot him. So he handed it over. Then I left. From the store
owner's point of view:
I was minding the store when a man entered. He threatened me with a gun
and demanded all the cash receipts. Well, I didn't want to get hurt so I gave
him the money. Then he escaped.
A new idea from MIT is to grab bits and parts of speech and ask for more
details from the user to understand what it didn't before and to understand
better what it did before (G. McWilliams, 1993).
In IBM's current NLP programs, instead of having rules for determining
context and meaning, the program determines its own rules from the relationships
between words in its input. For example, the program could add a new definition
to the word "bad" once it realized that it is slang for "incredible." IBM also
uses statistical probability to determine the meaning of a word. IBM's NLP
programs also use a sentence-charting technique. For example, charting the
sentence "The boy has left" and storing the boy as a noun phrase allows the
computer to see that the subject of a following sentence beginning with "He" as
"the boy." (G. McWilliams, 1993)
In the 1950s, Noam Chomsky believed that NLP consisted only of syntax.
With MARGIE, Roger Schank added semantics. By 1975, Robert Wilensky's PAM could
handle pragmatics, too. And as Joe Weizenbaum did with ELIZA in 1958, over 35
years later IBM is adding tricks to its NLP programs. Natural Language
Processing has had many successes - and many failures. How well can a computer
understand us?


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