Who's the sponsor?

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A few weeks ago I attended the last afternoon of Scale By The Bay 2018 ("So much for Big Data", 11/18/2018), and as a result, this arrived today by email:

We had a blast at Scale by the Bay. We hope you did, too. As a sponsor, the organizer has shared your email with us. If you would like to receive messages from Xxxxxxxxx, please opt-in to our mailing list.

My first thought was "wait a minute, how did I get to be a sponsor?" This was not a prescriptive reaction, since I guess by the style-book rules, it ought to be "the organizer" that lines up in the sponsor slot.

But obviously it's Xxxxxxxxx who was the sponsor, and we can tell that because I know it's not me, and it doesn't make any sense for it to be the conference organizer (Alexy Khrabrov), and  it's plausible for sponsors to get access to attendee email lists.

This problem in common-sense reasoning and co-reference resolution is analogous to the Winograd Schema Challenge, a simple sort of problem that turns out to be remarkably difficult for current AI approaches to solve.


  1. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 8:20 pm

    So the sponsor is the "us" in that sentence and the "we" in the previous sentences? Not that I've done a study, but that strikes me as typical of these discourteous ambiguities: the intended attachment point is in the sentence somewhere. It seems a little odd that Xxxxxxxxx then switches to third person, though.

    Is it possible that early AI is giving or will give people reasons to avoid ambiguities more carefully? One doesn't, of course, want to alter human behavior to fit the needs of machines, in most cases.

    …it's plausible for sponsors to get access to attendee email lists.

    Plausible, but I trust you got some kind of warning about it.

    I hope I'm allowed to speculate that the hyphen in "opt-in" got there in imitation of the one that's prescriptively required when the phrase is used attributively, as in "an opt-in list".

  2. D.O. said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 9:42 pm

    Our AI system failed Winograd test, because it was badly designed.

  3. Thomas Rees said,

    December 11, 2018 @ 1:26 am

    As a sponsor, we hoovered up your e-mail from the organiser’s files.

  4. ktschwarz said,

    December 11, 2018 @ 8:06 pm

    I clicked "Ambiguity" and was surprised to find very few posts, all from 2018. It appears that "ambiguity" and "Ambiguity" are two different categories on this blog, containing two separate sets of posts (except for one that's conscientiously listed under both). Is it a WordPress bug? I thought categories and tags weren't supposed to be case-sensitive.

  5. Rodger C said,

    December 13, 2018 @ 7:47 am

    Two Types of Ambiguity?

  6. Mary Douthwaite said,

    December 13, 2018 @ 6:50 pm

    SURELY even AI can be programmed to distinguish a verb from
    an adjective or adverb. "Please opt-in" is inexcusable. This has ruined my Christmas season.

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