If you ask computers, they will probably name ambiguity as public enemy number one. Ambiguity occurs when a word or expression can mean two or more different things, and you can’t find out which from the word alone – for that, you need the surroundings, or the context, and often also a lot of background information. Here’s an example: is a guide a book or a person? Although computational linguistics has methods to deal with some of this, resolving ambiguity remains mainly the privilege of the human mind.
Yehoshua Bar-Hillel himself invokes the concept of ambiguity in language to prove that high-quality automatic translation is not feasible, at least not if you stay with the generative approach. But I have already spent several posts on this, so now it’s time for something completely different.
Today I plan to confuse my readers by pointing out that human beings, whether they like it or not, are part of translation technology – or any technology, for that matter. Yet in the previous post, I argued that humans, for better or worse, are prone to refuse to be part of the machine.
In this blog, I promised stories about the history of language technology, and the promise still stands: stories will come. But the things that happen in science and technology do not happen in themselves or by themselves, and when you tell stories about events in technology, it helps if you are conscious about how and why they happen.
Humankind created amazing things since the dawn of history, which brought about unprecedented wealth and an almost twofold increase in the life expectancy of those lucky enough to be born in the so-called “developed” world. This makes us talk about the development – or progress – of science and technology, and the improvement of the quality of life along with it. Continue reading
This blog is about language and technology. Not language technology, although at first I plan to explore what people dreamed up and crafted through history to bring down language barriers. Hence the title ‘Dreamers and doers’ – I see development as a whirlwind where dreams and actions endlessly spin around each other. Later, we might also look at how language influenced the development of technology (or if we can talk about development at all), but first, let’s just think of this:
Language has immense power: to name things. Once you can name things, you can talk to others about it, and then several people together might even create them. Just think: humans, through language, can name things that don’t exist in the physical world – and the moment you name one such thing it is brought into existence. Maybe not in a tangible form, but it will exist.