How do computers learn to read, speak and listen?

We can talk to almost all of our gadgets now, but exactly how does it work? When you ask “What song is this?” or say “Call Mom”, a miracle of modern technology is happening. And while it feels like it’s on the cutting edge, the science behind it has been around for a little while – it is called Natural Language Processing (NLP).

NLP is essentially a branch of artificial intelligence that helps computers understand, interpret and manipulate human language. NLP draws from many disciplines, including computer science and computational linguistics, in its pursuit to fill the gap between human communication and computer understanding.

While natural language processing isn’t a new science, the technology is rapidly advancing thanks to an increased interest in human-to-machine communications, plus an availability of big data, powerful computing and enhanced algorithms. 


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As a human, you may speak and write in English, Chinese or Hindi. But a computer’s native language – known as machine code or machine language – is largely incomprehensible to most people. But thanks to NLP, now you can say, “Alexa, I like this song,” and a device playing music in your home will lower the volume and reply, “Ok. Rating saved,” in a humanlike voice. Then it adapts its algorithm to play similar songs the next time you listen to that music station.

But how does NLP work? If you would like to know the answer, here’s an excellent video from CrashCourse that explains the key concepts behind NLP in plain and simple English!


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