This blog post was written by Howie Chan, Business Analyst at TechAlliance.
With Google’s recent acquisition of social media startup Wavii, an online tool that used natural language processing to source content for users, it’s clear that competing on data aggregation is not enough for today’s startups. Apps like Treato and the well-known Siri, are examples of how data is being taken to a whole new level.
What is natural language processing (NLP)? In layman terms, it means that a computer can actually derive meaning from what you’re asking it. NLP has been around since the 1950s when Alan Turing designed the Turing test and over time, the technology has become a part of our everyday computing.
NLP is currently used in search engines, online newspapers, personal assistants, financial markets, keyboards (Minuum), and of course in big data computers like IBM’s Watson. NLP is also being used by organizations like the Central Intelligence Agency to compute on all human generated information.
The technology is so vital that Google acquired Wavii, a tool that learns your preferences, crawls the web, and generates updates that are relevant to you. The move can be seen as another step away from Google’s traditional keyword search to Google’s Knowledge Graph semantic search and Google Now assistant.
It’s interesting to note that Apple was also considering Wavii for its Siri app. Similarly, Yahoo acquired Summly, a news summarizing app, in November 2012.
Why are these content giants considering NLP? NLP has huge implications for today’s socially connected networks and it has the ability to discern meaning and predict trends in a variety of industries.
For example, the Associated Press’ Twitter account was hacked in April 2013. The hacked tweets led to a 143 pt drop in the Dow Industrial Average in a matter of seconds. High-frequency trading algorithms were triggered to drop the stock on the “bad” news that was posted to the hacked account. Nearly 50% of all equity trades today are made by such computers.
What does this mean for today’s tech-startups? Think big. Dashboards and static content are quickly becoming a commodity in today’s feature-rich technology world.
What we need tomorrow are intelligent apps that are designed to interact with users and can actually dynamically interpret what is going on in the user’s environment. As high-end technology like IBM’s Watson, slowly disseminate into consumer tech, it will be highly advantageous to be thinking along similar lines. What would you do with natural language processing?
If you’re interested in learning more, the University of Waterloo offers graduate level courses in Natural Language as part of its Artificial Intelligence Group. I also wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing research come out of Western’s own Brain and Mind Institute.