What is NLP?

What is NLP?

Ever wondered how your Alexa is so smart to understand your speech and complete meaningful actions? How could a machine become so intelligent that it could not only process the voice command but also learn and adapt as they go on? How is it possible for machines to talk and respond to us in a human-like manner?
It is surprising to realize that we have been consumers of NLP applications even without recognizing them. Your smart assistants (Alexa, Siri), bots on your favorite pizza center's website, spell checks and predictive texts, digital phone calls - the list goes on and on.

What are Natural Languages?

Before we get into NLP, let us take a moment to understand what is natural language and why it is difficult to process it compared to formal language.
Formal Languages are specific languages designed by people for specific applications or scenarios. They are characterized by precise syntax and semantics, with mathematically precise construction rules. The strict construction rules of formal languages make them almost unambiguous, which makes them easier for the machine to decipher.
On other hand, Natural Languages are used by people and have evolved over time. They are more context-dependent compared to the formal languages and have weakened grammar rules as well. Natural languages are also characterized by semantic ambiguity, which is often resolved with the help of contextual information. This makes them harder for machines to understand and require processing before being fed into machines.
Natural Language
Formal Language
Weak grammer rules
Strict grammer rules
Uses Idioms and metaphors
Context depdendent
Context independent

Natural Language Processing

Natural Language Processing or NLP, is a specialized branch of Artificial Intelligence that allows machines to read, understand and derive the meaning of natural languages, much like how humans do. The input from humans, text or voice, is (preprocessed and) processed by the NLP engines to make it more readable and understandable for the machines to analyze the data. This would allow machines to initiate suitable actions in response to human input.
NLP uses a mixture of Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science, along with Computational linguistics and machine learning to decipher meaning from texts and speech, including the speaker's sentiment and intent.

Application of NLP

You live in a world that is surrounded by NLP applications and you have been consuming them without recognizing them. Some of them include
  • Smart Assistants like Alexa and Siri
  • Chatbots
  • Speech recognition software
  • Autocorrection and spell/grammar checks
  • Email filters
  • Language Translations
  • Digital Phone Calls
  • Data analytics
  • Targeted Advertising

What it means to Business

Most of the information available through any medium of communication is mostly in natural languages, which is meaningless to machines. NLP allows these enormous amounts of information to be parsed and analyzed for business development. Insights from the data, that could be objectified and analyzed, could help in improving decision making, in addition, to aiding in market research and brand positioning.
The businesses could benefit by employing bots, significantly reducing cost and effort, in addition, to providing 24x7 service to the customers. The analyzed data could also help in improving and streamlining the process within the organization.