Video: When Will My Computer Understand Me?

Aaron Dobrow of the Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas recently wrote, "Language isn’t always straightforward, even for humans. The multiple definitions in a dictionary can make it difficult even for people to choose the correct meaning of a word. Katrin Erk, a linguistics researcher in the College of Liberal Arts, refers to this as 'semantic muck.' Enabled by supercomputers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center, Erk has developed a new method for visualizing the words in a high-dimensional space. Instead of hard-coding human logic or deciphering dictionaries to try to teach computers language, Erk decided to try a different tactic: feed computers a vast body of texts (which are a reflection of human knowledge) and use the implicit connections between the words to create a map of relationships."

Erk commented, “An intuition for me was that you could visualize the different meanings of a word as points in space… You could think of them as sometimes far apart, like a battery charge and criminal charges, and sometimes close together, like criminal charges and accusations ('the newspaper published charges…'). The meaning of a word in a particular context is a point in this space. Then we don’t have to say how many senses a word has. Instead we say: ‘This use of the word is close to this usage in another sentence, but far away from the third use.’ ”

Read more here, or watch this video about Erk's work:

Image: Courtesy University of Texas