Until it Means Nothing
...a democratic term, to avoid damning labels...as soon as it begins to mean anything to anyone, they'll change it. "The idea seems to be: use an expression as long as it doesn't mean anything to anyone."
-Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes, 1959, p106
Our ambiguous world of words
May 31, 2013
Ambiguity in language poses the greatest challenge when it comes to training a computer to understand the written word.
Although words with multiple meanings give English a linguistic richness, they can also create ambiguity: drawing a gun could mean pulling out a firearm or illustrating a weapon.
We can navigate through this potential confusion because our brain takes into account the context surrounding words and sentences, but, for computers, so-called lexical ambiguity poses a major challenge.
"Computers are hopeless at disambiguation"
"It turns out that there are interesting links between quantum physics, quantum computing and linguistics," said Clark. "In the same way that quantum mechanics seeks to explain what happens when two quantum entities combine, Mehrnoosh and I wanted to understand what happens to the meaning of a phrase or sentence when two words or phrases combine."
The 'distributional' approach to language modeling focuses on the meanings of the words themselves, and the principle that meanings of words can be worked out by considering the contexts in which words appear in text. "We build up a geometric space, or a cloud, in which the meanings of words sit. Their position in the cloud is determined by the sorts of words you find in their context. So, if you were to do this for dog and cat, you would see many of the same words in the cloud – pet, vet, food – because dog and cat often occur in similar contexts."
Dr. Stephem Clark, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the European Research Council, Bob Coecke, Professor of Quantum Foundations, Logics and Structures at the University of Oxford, and Dr Mehrnoosh Sadrzadeh, Queen Mary (University of London), who works on the applications of logic to computer science and linguistics.
Small differences in how a technology is defined can make a big difference in how the public feels about it
March 11, 2013
Even small tweaks in how scientists describe scientific breakthroughs can significantly change how the public perceives their work, a new study indicates. Researchers found that showing individuals different definitions of nanotechnology led to differences in how strongly the subjects supported this emerging area of science and in their motivation to learn more about it.
Participants in the University of Wisconsin-Madison study were given one of three definitions, each of which framed nanotechnology differently.
The researchers found that if the definition highlighted nanotechnology's useful applications, readers were more likely to support nanotechnology but weren't motivated to gather more information. If the definition focused on risks and benefits, readers were more interested in learning more but less likely to support nanotechnology.
"Changing the definition did not change the attitudes toward the technology for those who had a college degree in science," Brossard says. "It did, however, make a difference among those who have a college degree in a non-science-related field and those who do not have a college degree. And different definitions impacted these groups' motivation to learn more in different ways."
-Dominique Brossard, UW-Madison professor of life sciences communication.
This work appears in the Journal of Nanoparticle Research, provided by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University
May 10, 2013
As an 11-year-old, he had been fascinated by the flame on the end of a candle. When he asked his teacher what a flame was, she replied only: “Oxidation.” That answer meant nothing to him. In his editorial, Alda challenged scientists to do a better job of explaining a flame to an 11-year-old.
“Our aspiration is to become the first university in the nation to offer training in communications to all of our science and health graduate students”
“Alan’s insight is at the heart of our approach, which uses improvisation, story-telling and clear, vivid language to help scientists share the beauty and meaning of their work.”