Welcome to the NLP World

For some reason I feel that NLP (Natural Language Processing) is considered an “Academic” field. While I don’t have a degree in this field, I do have quite a bit of practical experience. In the past few years I have developed a several NLP systems: a public transportation route planner, a remote television program recorder, an appointment scheduling system, as well as a few others. I am proud to say I have developed real products that thousands of people use every day!

First I want to apologize to the academics, as you may not agree with many of the things in this post (or the ones that follow).

Welcome to the NLP world

Welcome to the NLP world

The goal of NLP systems:

In simple words the goal of a NLP system is to convert (or “translate”) a human text such as: a news article, text message, search request, Facebook status… etc, into a well-defined data structure which is readable for a computer.

A very simple example – a system that recognizes flights search requests:

Possible inputs: The Result:
I’m looking for a flight- from Madrid, Spain to London, England- from Spain, Madrid to England, London- to London, England, from Madrid, Spain

– to England, London, from Spain, Madrid

<from>
<city>Madrid</city>
<country>Spain</country>
</from>
<to>
<city>London</city>
<country>England</country>
</to>

* Different inputs in a human language (left side) with the same XML result (right side).

Usually the NLP system is not a standalone system, but a one module of a larger system. In most cases the result of the NLP engine is used to retrieve some information (in our example: search for a relevant flight in the schedule) and then send the final result back to the user.

The cycle of a standard system:

User → User input → NLP system → Database, Information center → Final Result → User

More NLP systems:

For further reading, here are some well-known uses of NLP:

Semantic role labeling
Named-entity recognition (NER)
Document classification
Language identification

Timeout – My life outside the NLP world:

I would like to introduce you LEGO Mindstorms, a nice kit for learning the robotics world:

Follow me on Twitter or contact me: shlomibabluki@gmail.com.

Shlomi Babluki

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