Sharing the Birth of a Word


Author: Matthew Gould

I would to like share a classic TED Talk that I return to often. It’s powerful, fun and, for those of us interested in language, a great demonstration of the complexity inherent in computational linguistics and speech.

Sometimes it’s hard to explain Natural Language Generation. It’s hard because it’s seemingly so simple. There is nothing more natural for us humans to do than talk or write. What is easy for us as people has been, up until now, impossible for machines. Before the Arria NLG Platform was introduced machines could capture speech, they could voice pre-prepared statements, or assemble simple texts from templates, but they could not convert large data inputs into complex sentences. So when our customers see acres of their data being instantly transformed into insightful narrative, sure they get excited. They get impressed by the ROI associated with automating to seconds a process that used to take a person hours or days to complete, but they rarely grasp just how complex the underlying process is.

Arria has made the process of converting data into narrative easy. We have built an Artificial Intelligence that does what your human, natural intelligence does. But to explain just how amazing this is can be hard.

The human mind is an incredible super computer – far more powerful than anything so far built by IBM or Google. To understand the effort and training gone into the programming of your mind, the coding of your brain for language, one has to look right back at how language develops in children. The evolution of a single word for a child is fascinating. The TED Talk below by the MIT researcher Deb Roy captures this miracle of language evolution. The ability of a child to associate external data stimuli – place, need, action – with a word is similar to how the NLG platform works – we take in data, build a message, and then give the message an articulation (words). Deb Roy’s TED Talk is not about NLG – it’s about the natural evolution of language in the mind of his son, but it maybe gives a glimpse of just how much time and effort is required to train a human mind to convert data into text. Grab a coffee, click play, and revel for a while in just how amazing your language ability is:


Coincidentally, Arria’s Chief Scientist, Ehud Reiter, has had a long association with Deb Roy. You may also be interested in reading their joint paper ‘Connecting Language to the World’ (2005).


Author: Matthew Gould is CSO and Co-Founder of Arria NLG.


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