One of the most challenging and revolutionary things artificial intelligence (AI) can do is speak, write, listen, and understand human language. Natural language processing (NLP) is a branch of artificial intelligence that helps computers understand, interpret and manipulate human language. NLP draws from many disciplines, including computer science and computational linguistics, in its pursuit to fill the gap between human communication and computer understanding. While natural language processing isn’t a new science, the technology is rapidly advancing thanks to an increased interest in human-to-machine communications, plus an availability of big data, powerful computing and enhanced algorithms.
Every day, humans exchange countless words with other humans to get all kinds of things accomplished. But communication is much more than words — there’s context, body language, and more that help us understand the intent of the words when we communicate with each other. That’s what makes natural language processing, the ability for a machine to understand human speech, such an incredible feat and one that has huge potential to impact so much in our modern existence. Today, there is a wide array of applications natural language processing is responsible for. Natural language processing is behind the scenes for several things you may take for granted every day.
When you ask Siri for directions or to send a text, natural language processing enables that functionality.
If you have shopped online or interacted with a website chat box, you likely were interacting with a chatbot rather than a human. These AI customer service gurus are actually algorithms that use natural language processing to be able to understand your query and respond to your questions adequately, automatically, and in real-time.
Auto-correct, grammar and spell check, as well as auto-complete, are all functions enabled by NLP. The spam filter on your email system uses NLP to determine what emails you’d like to keep in your inbox and what are likely spam and should be sorted out.
Now lets look at how computers actually perform NLP. The process can be broken down into three parts. The first task of NLP is to understand the natural language received by the computer. The computer uses a built-in statistical model to perform a speech recognition routine that converts the natural language to a programming language. It does this by breaking down a recent speech it hears into tiny units, and then compares these units to previous units from a previous speech. The output or result in text format statistically determines the words and sentences that were most likely said. This first task is called the speech-to-text process.
The next task is called the part-of-speech tagging or word-category disambiguation. This process identifies words in their grammatical forms as nouns, verbs, adjectives, past tense, etc. using a set of rules coded into the computer. After these two processes, the computer probably now understands the meaning of the speech that was made.
The third step taken by an NLP is text-to-speech conversion. At this stage, the computer programming language is converted into an audible or textual format for the user.
There is a lot of interest in NLP these days and we can expect that NLP will become even better and more influential in the very near future. Hopefully, you know have a bit of an idea of what all the hype is about and you understand a bit more about this buzzword.