Artificial intelligence and language

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The concept of artificial intelligence has been around for a long time.

We’re all familiar with HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, C-3PO from Star Wars and, more recently, Samantha from Her. In written fiction, AI characters show up in stories from writers like Philip K. Dick, William Gibson and Isaac Asimov. Sometimes it seems like it’s touched on by every writer who has written sci-fi.

While many predictions and ideas put forward in sci-fi have come to life, artificial intelligence is probably the furthest behind. We are nowhere near true artificial intelligence as exemplified by the characters mentioned above.

Sometimes it seems like we’ve been waiting forever. We can ask Siri or Google or Cortana simple questions and they will answer, but everyone who’s used that technology eventually comes away disappointed. We thought Siri was the future when it first came out, but these days, most of us barely use it beyond simple Google searches and dead simple tasks, like setting timers.

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The reason these software programs leave so much to be desired comes down to language. This is where natural language processing (NLP) comes into play. Artificial intelligence can grasp the meaning of simple language, and speak back to you, but it is limited by its literal interpretations of our questions. A computer can know the definition of a word, but it doesn’t understand the meaning of words within a larger context.

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