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Text mining is the next fracking

Thursday, 5 February, 2015

Oren Etzioni, Executive Director of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, invites us to consider the following sentence: “The large ball crashed right through the table because it was made of Styrofoam.” What was made of Styrofoam, Etzioni asks? The large ball or the table? The answer is clearly ‘the table,’ but if we change ‘Styrofoam’ to ‘steel’, the answer is obviously ‘the large ball’. In other words, if we want computers to instantly answer this kind of question, they’ll need a massive corpus of knowledge and Oren Etzioni believes that they’ll get it from text mining. Listen up.

Might text mining lead us down the road to the beloved Star Trek universal translator? It would be more socially acceptable than the ear-insertable Babel Fish imagined by Douglas Adams in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Utopians say that by removing language barriers world peace would become a near certainty. But beware, in his comedy science fiction series, Adams warns that perfect understanding of language would cause “more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.”


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