Electronic Design

The Challenge Of Natural Language

Now that Ray Kurzweil has brought the reading machine down to pocket size, he wants to enhance it so it will tell a blind person what is in the environment. "It will be like a friend who describes what they see: There’s a cat on the sofa, your ex-wife is sitting next to the cat, and so on," he says. But that will take yet one more development.

Kurzweil wants to be able to talk to computers in natural language. "They are not very good at this yet," he says. "Alan Turing felt that natural language could represent the full range of human intelligence, and that is why he based his Turing test (a test for assessing human level intelligence in a machine) on human language. This is a key challenge for the AI field and will give us new insight into our own thinking process. One application would be a search engine that you could talk to as if it were a research assistant."

Translating telephones are also on the horizon. Kurzweil has a prototype that translates the speaker’s language into the listener’s language. "This combines speech recognition, text-to-text language translation, and speech synthesis," he says. "We will increasingly see AI applications that combine multiple technologies, just as the human brain combines multiple capabilities."

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