Archive for Elephant semifics

Covered. Nineteen. At pain medicine

Google Fi screens my calls, so that my phone doesn't even ring unless the caller is in my contacts, or passes some kind of quasi-Turing Test. This is a Good Thing, since I get half a dozen spam calls a day, often at inconvenient times. As a result, robocalls generally end up as voicemail, which Google Fi helpfully turns into a convenient text message — which is often amusing. For example, a couple of days before my second vaccine shot last month, a robocall from Penn Medicine got transcribed like this:

Hello, this is pain medicine reaching out to you regarding covered. Nineteen. We've implemented a short sentence screening survey before coming into your appointment. All pain medicine patients are being asked to complete this brief electronic symptom checker to answer the questions, please call 215-NNN-NNNN. If your appointment has been canceled or rescheduled, please disregard this message patients and visitors. I'm presenting two pain medicine locations for inpatient outpatient or emergency department care should be wearing a cloth face covering in accordance with current CDC and state guidance. Thank you.

[Callback number obscured]

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Advances in topic modeling

In the middle to late 1990s, "Topic Detection and Tracking" was an active research area (see also this). And by the early 2000s, the technology was good enough to support the creation of Google News. Twenty years later, these and other innovations have transformed the mass media, for good or ill. I don't know what algorithms the AI in charge of Topic Modeling at Google News is using these days, but I'm happy to see it developing a sense of humor:

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Articulate Tory gestures

At our most recent Penn Phonetic Lab meeting, we heard a (virtual) talk by Marc Garellek on the topic "Reconsidering voicing during glottal sounds". The talk was quite interesting, but more relevant for a general audience was what happened when someone turned on Zoom's "Live Transcription" feature:

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Image search results

Yesterday my wife challenged me to identify the person in a photo she sent. I decided to cheat, by using Google Image Search — and the results were very strange.

We've posted often about weird AI behavior in Speech-to-Text and Machine Translation and other NLP applications. Image processing has its own litany of weirdness, which is not often a topic here for obvious reasons. But this case does have a linguistic aspect, namely the cited links…

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"The inspirations to be more inoperative"

Recently I was doing some background research on Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD), and one of the references that Google Scholar handed me was a Semantic Scholar page for J.A. Willeford and J. Burleigh, "Handbook of central auditory processing disorders in children", 1985, with the following abstract:

The handbook of central auditory processing disorders in children that we provide for you will be ultimate to give preference. This reading book is your chosen book to accompany you when in your free time, in your lonely. This kind of book can help you to heal the lonely and get or add the inspirations to be more inoperative. Yeah, book as the widow of the world can be very inspiring manners. As here, this book is also created by an inspiring author that can make influences of you to do more.

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Haunted laptop?

Daniel Sturman writes:

I was looking for information about the composer Sébastien de Brossard, and used Bing’s automatic translation to open each of his seven non-English Wikipedia pages.

The translation from Russian made a rather curious choice that gave the page a Lovecraftian feel, with a tinge of Zalgo:

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Pecan, pecan, let's call the whole thing off…

If you ask Google (in various ways) how to pronounce pecan, you'll get suggested additional questions like these:

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Google Translate doesn't know Latin

Sean Hannity's new book, Live Free or Die, was released a couple of days ago. The original cover featured a Latin motto, "Vivamus vel libero perit Americae", whose source was apparently Google Translate's version of "Live Free or America Dies":

As Spencer Alexander McDaniel observed, this is gobbledygook — or perhaps we should say "googledygook".

The title of McDaniel's post ("Sean Hannity does not know Latin") is unfair, though probably true, since the cover design was most likely created by the publisher. But a better observation might have been that Google Translate doesn't know Latin. Of course modern machine translation systems don't really "know" any languages, but have just memorized patterns of contextual correspondences. When the available training data is merely a few million words, as in the case of Latin, the results are often bad, as here.

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Santa Claus is full

Today's adventure in AI brought yet another robocall, which my Google Assistant intercepted since the calling number (probably spoofed) was not in my contacts list. Here's Google Assistant's rendering of the interaction

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Resurrection in Herzliya

News sources around the world reported recently on a tragedy — "Officials: Chinese Ambassador to Israel Found Dead in Home", Associated Press 5/17/2020:

JERUSALEM — The Chinese ambassador to Israel was found dead in his home north of Tel Aviv on Sunday, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said.

Israeli Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the ambassador's death was believed to be from natural causes.

Du Wei, 58, was appointed envoy in February in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. He previously served as China’s envoy to Ukraine. He was found dead at the ambassador's official residence in Herzliya.

But if you read it on Israel Hayom (or other Hebrew sources) via Google Translate, you'll get a different picture:

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The standard deduckling

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Edwin's re-sonnets

Email today from Edwin Williams:

I constructed "new" sonnets from Shakespeare's sonnets by this formula: from a set of 7 randomly selected Shakespeare sonnets (a…g) I made a new sonnet "a b a b c d c d e f e f g g", which means, the first line is taken from the first line of sonnet a, the second line from sonnet the second line of sonnet b, etc. So no two adjacent lines were from the same sonnet, except the last two. I made 154 of these (same number as S made).

I did it for fun but was startled by the result–the new sonnets were sonnetlike, felt syntactically coherent, and begged for interpretation. People I sent them to were fascinated by them, even when they saw what I had done, or after I told them. One of them, Craig Dworkin, a poet I got to know when he was at Princeton in the 90s, asked to include them in his e-poetry site, and there they sit: http://eclipsearchive.org/projects/EDWIN/.

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Mrs. Transformer-XL Tittlemouse

This is another note on the amazing ability of modern AI learning techniques to imitate some aspects of natural-language patterning almost perfectly, while managing to miss common sense almost entirely. This probably tells us something about modern AI and also about language, though we probably won't understand what it's telling us until many years in the future.

Today's example comes from Zihang Da et al., "Transformer-XL: Attentive Language Models Beyond a Fixed-Length Context", arXiv 6/2/2019.

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