What Is Natural-Language Processing (NLP)?

"The primary concern of research in NLP is the computational study of language use, that is, the analysis and design of computational agents that use natural languages to acquire information from other agents, human or machine, and to enable or cause changes in other agents and, through this, to change the state of the world. While investigations of these and similar questions have drawn historically on linguistics, psycholinguistics and philosophy, NLP work emphasizes computational modeling and realization. This orientation contrasts with the emphasis on structural regularities of language in linguistics, and the emphasis on logical accounts of communicative abilities in philosophy.

"Language use epitomizes intelligent behavior. It crucially involves perception, deliberation and action, the core elements of the reactive loop familiar in AI more generally. Processes participating in the perception component of NLP range from the recognition of the words in a spoken utterance to the analysis of an utterance to identify the information-carrying relationships between its elements.

"Deliberative processes are central to the interpretation of utterances, which includes the determination of the information speakers intend to convey through their utterances and the actions they intend to perform by speaking. The view of language production as action is crucial not only in interpretation but also in language generation, which comprises the caluclation of intentions hearers form to continue communication according to their goals and the transformation of those intentions into actions (in this case, utterances) that can help achieve them. Thus, generation is best seen as a particular kind of action planning.

"As in other forms of intelligent activity, in linguistic activity the information flow from perception through deliberation to action is not unidirectional. For instance, the deliberation required to discover the intended meaning of an utterance may guide the perceptual processs that identifies the utterance's elements and their relationships."

Copyright © 2000 by William J. Rapaport (rapaport@cse.buffalo.edu)
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