Archive for Computational linguistics

Non-programmer friendly

Brad DeLong linked to a paywalled Financial Times article by Lisa Pollack about problems with spreadsheet usage, and observed that

[C]onsiderations like these make me extremely hesitant when I think of asking my students in Econ 1 next spring to do problems sets in Excel. Shouldn’t I be asking them to do it in R via R Studio or R Commander instead? Audit trails are very valuable. Debuggability is very valuable. Excel ain’t got it…

The first comment, from "Captaindomestic":

I'm biased as a MathWorks employee, but you may want to look into MATLAB. It is really strong in the kinds of data analysis and plotting that econ students need to do. MATLAB has a pretty non-programmer friendly editor and model that helps new users.

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Recommended For You

Alexander Spangher, "Building the Next New York Times Recommendation Engine", NYT 8/11/2015:

The New York Times publishes over 300 articles, blog posts and interactive stories a day.

Refining the path our readers take through this content — personalizing the placement of articles on our apps and website — can help readers find information relevant to them, such as the right news at the right times, personalized supplements to major events and stories in their preferred multimedia format.

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Easy-to-use frustration

"Important – Please contact us to provide more information."

That's what the letter from Independence Blue Cross said. Dated 7/28/2015, it arrived 8/4/2015, and informed me that I need to "call or respond online within seven business days to ensure that your future claims and those of your family members can be processed in a timely manner." So today is the deadline.

What do I need to contact them about? "We are required to determine if you or your family members have other health insurance coverage to process your claims."

OK, fair enough. And they inform me that "You can choose the most convenient way to provide this information to us". The first option is to "Simply dial 1-866-507-6575 and follow the prompts on our easy-use interactive voice response system"; the second option is "to visit our member website at www.ibxpress.com".

But it turns out that there are a couple of problems. The first problem is that both methods fail at the first step. And the second problem is that there's apparently no other way to contact them to "provide more information … to ensure that your future claims and those of your family members can be processed in a timely manner".

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A new AI problem

Here's a task that I haven't heard about: recognizing mixed metaphors and idiom blends.

For example, from Bob Ford, "Eagles season can go one of three ways", Philadelphia Inquirer 8/2/2015:

If the Eagles win big this season, they will get bonus points for degree of difficulty. The tightrope over which success is stretched is very narrow.

And at the end of the piece:

Those are the three doors, and, admit it, the Eagles could open any of them this season. As training camp begins, there is no way to tell. There could be opportunity knocking or a doorbell tolling. Finding out which will take a while, though.

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Annals of LID

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Marriage O'Quality

Tweeted by Graeme Orr:

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OK Google

A couple of days ago, I gave a talk at the Centre Cournot on the topic "Why Human Language Technology (almost) works" ("Pourquoi les technologies de la langue et du discours marchent enfin (ou presque)"), and for the introduction, I tried giving Google Now a few questions and instructions on my Android phone.

In case you're not familiar with this feature, you start it up by saying "OK Google", followed by the question you want it to answer or the instruction you want it to follow.

And since the starting-point of my talk was that HLT now actually works well enough to be useful, I was glad to see that my little experiment worked pretty well.

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Modeling repetitive behavior

A recent conversation with Didier Demolin about animal vocalizations motivated me to return to a an issue discussed in "Finch linguistics", 7/15/2011. (See also "Markov's heart of darkness", 7/18/2011, "Non-Markovian yawp", 9/18/2011, and "The long get longer", 12/4/2013.)

The point is this: In modeling the structure of simple repetitive behavior, considerations from (traditional) formal language theory can obscure rather than clarify the issues. These threats to insight include the levels of the Chomsky-Schützenberger hierarchy, the "recursion" controversy, and so on.

What follows is an attempt at a simple illustrated explanation.

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Early Alzheimer's signs in Reagan's speech

Lawrence Altman, "Parsing Ronald Reagan’s Words for Early Signs of Alzheimer’s", NYT 3/30/2015:

Even before Ronald Reagan became the oldest elected president, his mental state was a political issue. His adversaries often suggested his penchant for contradictory statements, forgetting names and seeming absent-mindedness could be linked to dementia.  

In 1980, Mr. Reagan told me that he would resign the presidency if White House doctors found him mentally unfit. Years later, those doctors and key aides told me they had not detected any changes in his mental abilities while in office.  

Now a clever new analysis has found that during his two terms in office, subtle changes in Mr. Reagan’s speaking patterns linked to the onset of dementia were apparent years before doctors diagnosed his Alzheimer’s disease in 1994.

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LEXHUB

From Christie Versagli:

It's with enthusiasm that we at the World Well-Being Project (University of Pennsylvania) would like to share with you the launch of lexhub.org, a hub for data, tools, papers, and almost any resource in the growing field of language analysis for social science. 

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Fake account spotting on Facebook

One language-related story in the British press over the weekend was that Gavin McGowan was threatened by Facebook with having his account shut down… because they said his name was fake.

About ten years ago Gavin learned some Scottish Gaelic and started using the Gaelic spelling of his name: Gabhan Mac A Ghobhainn. Facebook is apparently running software designed to spot bogus accounts on the basis of the letter-strings used to name them. Gabhan's name evidently failed the test.

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"They called for more structure"

From Kevin Knight's home page:

I think our approach to syntax in machine translation is best described in D. Barthelme's short story They called for more structure….

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REAPER

A couple of days ago, I mentioned ("Sarah Koenig", 2/5/2015) that David Talkin was releasing a new pitch tracking program called REAPER (available from github at the link). After a few minor improvements in documentation, it's ready for the general public.

The reaper program uses the EpochTracker class to simultaneously estimate the location of voiced-speech "epochs" or glottal closure instants (GCI), voicing state (voiced or unvoiced) and fundamental frequency (F0 or "pitch"). We define the local (instantaneous) F0 as the inverse of the time between successive GCI.

After trying it out, I can recommend it whole-heartedly — it's robust and accurate and fast. It's my new standard pitch tracker.

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