Amazon: Wheel Re-Invention

December 19, 2018

Some languages have bound phrases; that is, two words which go together. Examples include “White House”, a presidential dwelling, and “ticket counter”, a place to talk with an uninterested airline professionals. How does a smart software system recognize a bound phrase and then connect it to the speaker’s or writer’s intended meaning. There is a difference between “I toured the White House” and “Turn left at the white house.”

Traditionally, vendors of text analysis, indexing, and NLP systems used jargon to explain a collection of methods pressed into action to make sense of language quirks. The guts of most systems are word lists, training material selected to make clear that in certain contexts some words go together and have a specific meaning; for example, “terminal” doesn’t make much sense until one gets whether the speaker or writer is referencing a place to board a train (railroad terminal), the likely fate of a sundowner (terminal as in dead), or a computer interface device (dumb terminal).

How does Amazon accomplish this magic? Amazon embraces jargon, of course, and then explains its bound phrase magic in “How Alexa Knows “Peanut Butter” Is One Shopping-List Item, Not Two.”

Amazon’s spin is spoken language understanding. The write up explains how the system operates. But the methods are ones that others have used. Amazon, to be sure, has tweaked the procedures. That’s standard operating procedure in the index game.

What’s interesting is that no reference is made to the contextual information which Amazon has to assist its smart software with disambiguation.

But Amazon is now talking, presumably to further the message that the company is a bold, brave innovator.

No argument from Harrod’s Creek. That’s a bound phrase, by the way, with capital letters and sometimes and apostrophe or not.

Stephen E Arnold, December 19, 2018


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