Automatic Text Categorization Goes Mainstream

January 10, 2019

Blogger and scaling consultant Abe Winter declares, “Automatic Categorization of Text Is a Core Tool Now.” Noting that, as of last year, companies are using automatic text categorization regularly, Winter clarifies what he is, and is not, referring to here:

“I’m talking about taking a database with short freeform text fields and automatically tagging them according to a tagged sample corpus. I’m not talking about text synthesis, anything to do with speech, automatic chat, question answering, or Alexa Skills.”

Though Winter observes the trend, he is not sure why 2018 was a tipping point. He writes:

“We’ve had some of the building blocks for this kind of text processing for decades, including the stats tools and the training corpuses. Does deep learning help? I don’t know but at minimum it helps by delivering sexy headlines that keep AI in the news, which in turn convinces business stakeholders this is something they can get behind. It wasn’t magic before and it’s not magic now; the output of these algorithms still requires some amount of quality control and manual inspection. But business leaders are now willing to admit that the old manual way of doing things also had drawbacks….”

The write-up goes on to observe that, while text categorization now works well enough for the mainstream, speech and conversation interfaces still fall short of flawless functionality. He directs our attention to this Google Duplex conversation agent demo as he alludes to some troubling trends in corporate AI deployment. He closes with a word to programmers wondering whether they should add natural language processing to their toolkits:

“The part of the question I can’t answer is how big is the job pool, how long will the bubble last and how much expertise do you need to get more money than you make now? … For myself, I’m learning the basic techniques because they feel core to my industry skill set. I’m staying open to chances to apply them and to work with experts. I’m not even at the midpoint of my career and want to stay ahead of the curve.”

It does seem that natural language processing is not about to go away any time soon.

Cynthia Murrell, January 10, 2019

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