The promise of natural language processing has been decades in arriving, but now it is here, it opens up a new world in digital communication. The arrival of Siri, Alexa and other talkative assistants is all well and good, but there’s no point if the device or service doesn’t understand what the person is asking for, or talking about. Over the few years of their short lives, they have become better at understanding people thanks to natural language processing (NLP), a technology that learns words and phrases and their meaning to provide a better service.
With chatbots now steaming onto Messenger, Skype and other platforms, acting as a 24/7 concierge or helper there are even more reasons to be aware of these technologies and the role NLP plays in them. Chatbots usually run on a script, but if the human on the other end isn’t following that script, then the conversation will run dry very quickly. NLP allows the chatbot to spot key phrases and go with a different approach.
The likes of Google’s Cloud Natural Language will drive all kinds of services in the cloud, as it and other services scan through documents or conversations for syntax, entities, sentiment and context. Soon the machines will understand everything we write or say.
While the focus is on the technology, at the backend, there are now large numbers of people being employed with Machine Learning skills to help develop new systems and drive forward this part of the digital economy.
Between them, voice assistants can help with task automation, reminders and find your favourite music. Chatbots can help people engage with companies, services or other businesses, especially when there’s no one in the office, or when the customer doesn’t really want to speak to a person.
But we’re still in the first generation of this type of digital assistance, and progress will be gradual and harder to spot. As the tech companies drop the 2.0 and 3.1 tags that were such a part of tech evolution. Now, the assistants are getting better in 0.001 daily updates, through self-learning and AI technologies that just make them smarter without the need for firmware updates.