The image of humans conversing with their computers is both a thoroughly accepted cliche of science fiction and the ultimate goal of computer programming, and yet, the year 2001 has come and gone without the appearance of anything like the HAL 9000 talking computer featured in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Computational linguists attempt to use computers to process human languages. The field of computational linguistics has two general aims:
- The technological. To enable computers to analyze and process natural language.
- The psychological. To model human language processing on computers.
From the technological perspective, natural language applications include:
- Speech recognition. Today, many personal computers include speech recognition software.
- Natural language interfaces to software. For example, demonstration systems have been built that let a user ask for flight information.
chatterbots, e.g., Alice
natural language understanding, e.g., a perl parser
Document retrieval and information extraction from written text. For example, a computer system could scan newspaper articles, looking for information about events of a particular type and enter the information into a database.
web searches, e.g., google.
- Machine translation. Computers offer the promise of quick translations between languages.
machine translation, e.g., SDL International
The rapid growth of the Internet/WWW and the emergence of the information society poses exciting new challenges to computational linguistics. Although the new media combine text, graphics, sound and movies, the whole wealth of multimedia information can only be structured, indexed and navigated through language. For browsing, navigating, filtering and processing the information on the web, we need language technology. The increasing multilingual nature of the web constitutes an additional challenge for language technology. The multilingual web can only be mastered with the help of multilingual tools for indexing and navigating.
Computational linguists adopting the psychological perspective hypothesize that at some abstract level, the brain is a kind of biological computer, and that an adequate answer to how people understand and generate language must be in terms formal and precise enough to be modeled by a computer.