Archive for Computational linguistics

Who is brian?

Email from a colleague in computer science, listing some of the mistranscriptions in the Zoom captions of his office hours:

timing problem -> tiling problem
bulletin annually -> boolean formulae
satisfy your ability -> satisfiability
fire patterns -> tile patterns
inquisition -> position
valuables -> variables
double fines -> double prime
double poison -> ?
amen -> m, n
wine is in the continent of age -> ???
I do not want a diet climb to brian -> ???

I will stop here and I hope that you can all satisfy your ability with no double fines
and avoid inquisition.
Who is brian?

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Robotic anaerobic Rodak erotic rotisserie

In yesterday's "Lively Blind Men" post, Ben Zimmer was appropriately amused by Zoom's speech-to-text mis-recognition of Lila Gleitman's name. But as everyone now has opportunities to learn, speech-to-text systems continue to make strange (and often amusing) mistakes in transcribing words and phrases that they haven't been trained to recognize. There are plenty of examples in pretty much any automatic transcription, and the 10/26 edition of the "Spectacular Vernacular podcast", which Ben co-hosts with Nicole Holliday, doesn't disappoint.

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Lively Blind Men

Last weekend, there was a memorial service at Penn for  Lila Gleitman, who passed away in August. The hundreds of people physically present were joined by a large crowd on Zoom, where the automatic closed captioning was turned on. And so the audience got to see a large sample of speech-to-text versions of Lila's name, of which this was my favorite:

(Click the picture for a larger version with more context…)

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English as Afrikaans?

Language-identification from digital text has been a solved problem for many years, so I was surprised yesterday to see Gmail offering to translate from Afrikaans an email written in perfectly idiomatic English, which started this way:

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Deep fake audio

Helen Rosner, "A Haunting New Documentary About Anthony Bourdain", The New Yorker 7/15/2021:

It’s been three years since Anthony Bourdain died, by suicide, in June of 2018, and the void he left is still a void. […]

In 2019, about a year after Bourdain’s death, the documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville began talking to people who had been close to Bourdain: his family, his friends, the producers and crew of his television series. “These were the hardest interviews I’ve ever done, hands down,” he told me. “I was the grief counsellor, who showed up to talk to everybody.” […]

There is a moment at the end of the film’s second act when the artist David Choe, a friend of Bourdain’s, is reading aloud an e-mail Bourdain had sent him: “Dude, this is a crazy thing to ask, but I’m curious” Choe begins reading, and then the voice fades into Bourdain’s own: “. . . and my life is sort of shit now. You are successful, and I am successful, and I’m wondering: Are you happy?” I asked Neville how on earth he’d found an audio recording of Bourdain reading his own e-mail. Throughout the film, Neville and his team used stitched-together clips of Bourdain’s narration pulled from TV, radio, podcasts, and audiobooks. “But there were three quotes there I wanted his voice for that there were no recordings of,” Neville explained. So he got in touch with a software company, gave it about a dozen hours of recordings, and, he said, “I created an A.I. model of his voice.” In a world of computer simulations and deepfakes, a dead man’s voice speaking his own words of despair is hardly the most dystopian application of the technology. But the seamlessness of the effect is eerie. “If you watch the film, other than that line you mentioned, you probably don’t know what the other lines are that were spoken by the A.I., and you’re not going to know,” Neville said. “We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later.”

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Publication penalties

Amanda D'Ambrosio, "Mayo Physician Fired Over COVID Book", MedPage Today 6/24/2021:

After publishing a book about his experience on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic, a physician was fired from his position at the Mayo Clinic this month, he confirmed to MedPage Today.

Steven Weiss, MD, an internist who practiced at the clinic's Eau Claire, Wisconsin location for 32 years, stated that he was terminated because he identified himself as an employee of the Mayo Clinic in his new book, called Carnage in America: COVID-19, Racial Injustice, and the Demise of Donald Trump.

According to a June 4 termination letter shared with MedPage Today, Mayo Clinic administrators told Weiss, 62, that his actions violated the health system's publishing policy, as he did not submit his manuscript to the institution for review before it was printed.

"I'm still in shock that I was terminated for this," Weiss said in an interview with MedPage Today. "I had no idea that they would claim a right to pre-vet a book before publication."

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Stochastic parrots

Long, but worth reading — Tom Simonite, "What Really Happened When Google Ousted Timnit Gebru", Wired 6/8/2021.

The crux of the story is this paper, which is now available on the ACM's website: Emily Bender, Timnit Gebru, Angelina McMillan-Major, and Shmargaret Shmitchell, "On the Dangers of Stochastic Parrots: Can Language Models Be Too Big?🦜" In Proceedings of the 2021 ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency, pp. 610-623. 2021.

As a result of a (somewhat strange) review process, described at length in the Wired article, Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell were fired (or declared to have resigned) from their leadership roles in Google's Ethical AI group.

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"This massive monster of incomprehensibility"

Atul Gawande, "Why doctors hate their computers", 11/5/2018, underlines the often-noted difficulty of working with badly-designed software:

I’ve come to feel that a system that promised to increase my mastery over my work has, instead, increased my work’s mastery over me. I’m not the only one. A 2016 study found that physicians spent about two hours doing computer work for every hour spent face to face with a patient—whatever the brand of medical software. In the examination room, physicians devoted half of their patient time facing the screen to do electronic tasks. And these tasks were spilling over after hours. 

But the most interesting part of the article, at least for me, was the discussion of reading the  records rather than writing them.

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Meta-methodology

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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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The 17th annual Blizzard Challenge

In today's email, an announcement for the 17th annual Blizzard Challenge:

We are delighted to call for participation in the Blizzard Challenge 2021. This is an open evaluation of corpus-based speech synthesis systems using common datasets and a large listening test.

This year, the challenge will provide a European Spanish speech dataset from one native speaker. The dataset was offered by iFLYTEK Co. Ltd. and is now available for downloading after registration and completing the license.
The two tasks involve building voices from this data to synthesise texts containing only Spanish words and to synthesise Spanish texts containing a small number of English words in each sentence.
Please read the full announcement and the rules at:

http://www.synsig.org/index.php/Blizzard_Challenge_2021

Please register by following the instructions on the web page, then wait for your registration to be accepted before completing the data license.

Important: please send all communications about Blizzard to the official address blizzard@festvox.org and not to our personal addresses.

Please feel free to distribute this announcement to other relevant mailing lists.

Regards,
Zhenhua Ling & Simon King

steering committee: Alan Black, Keiichi Tokuda, Simon King

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Ted Cruz in big trouble

Ben Hull writes:

In our Computational Linguistics class we were discussing different methods of segmenting Chinese character texts. Today I came across a terrific example of the problems of segmenting left to right, in the first sentence of the attached image. I hope you find it as amusing as I did.

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Data vs. information

[This is a guest post by Conal Boyce]

The following was drafted as an Appendix to a project whose working title is "The Emperor's New Information" (after Penrose, The Emperor's New Mind). It's still a work-in-progress, so feedback would be welcome. For example: Are the two examples persuasive? Do they need technical clarification or correction? Have others at LL noticed how certain authors "who should know better" use the term information where data is dictated by the context, or employ the two terms at random, as if they were synonyms?

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