Natural language processing is slowly but irreversibly changing the way we use and interact with machines. It’s pretty cool and it’s pretty powerful. It has enormous potential to not only influence the advancements in software development, but also to transform our future.
Natural language processing 101
Natural language processing is a machine learning technology designed to enable computers to understand spoken or written human language. It represents a specific subset of several disciplines, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and computational linguistics.
The idea behind this technology is to interact with computers in a way that is natural to us, which is to use human languages instead of strings of symbols. Essentially, the technology trains machines to understand human speech and even communicate in it.
However, the analysis of spoken and written human language is a complex and difficult process for a machine.
How does natural language processing work?
The nature of human language is organic, exceptionally complex, and context-dependent. Also, understanding natural language requires extensive knowledge of the real world. Therefore, it’s necessary for the machine to process huge amounts of linguistic data and gain insight and information.
Natural language processing uses artificial intelligence to analyze natural language data, such as speech, text, or even images. It then converts the input into structured data in a defined format that the machine can further work with.
In simple words, its role is to translate human natural language into a form that a computer or machine can understand, interpret, and act on command.
Use of natural language processing
Natural language processing has a wide range of uses. It can be used in many sectors, such as banking, insurance, healthcare, advertising, public relations, and publishing. The following are some of the most common use cases of natural language processing:
- Machine translation: applications such as Google Translate, Translate Me, or Bing Translate
- Voice recognition: as in virtual assistants, such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, or Google Assistant
- Generating natural language: as in chatbots such as ChatGPT
- Text proofing: tools like Grammarly
- Predictive text
- Spam detection
- Information extraction
- Text summarization
- Social media sentiment analysis
Natural language processing – benefits and challenges
Natural language processing has more potential and more advantages than it might seem at first glance. However, as with all other technologies, natural language processing faces a number of limitations and challenges.
The main advantage of natural language processing is, of course, to improve communication between humans and machines. NPL has the potential to make the interaction much easier and more spontaneous for people because it doesn’t require any coding knowledge.
Other advantages of natural language processing include:
- Increased documentation accuracy and efficiency
- Ability to summarize large and complex texts
- Facilitating performance and sentiment analysis
- Providing analytical insights that were previously unavailable due to the volume of data
- Streamlining daily processes
- Extracting actionable insights
- Structuring highly unstructured data
- Enabling businesses to implement chatbots for customer support
Computers require precision, structure and clarity — just the way a programming language is. However, this isn’t always the case with human language.
Most limitations and challenges boil down to the fact that human language can be imprecise and vague, with elements of social context, making it difficult for a computer to understand it.
Some troublemakers are:
- Homonyms and synonyms
- Irony and sarcasm
- Misspelling or speech errors
- Colloquialisms and slang
- Domain-specific language
Impact on software development
Recently, ChatGPT has demonstrated a wide array of impressive abilities. It’s a powerful chatbot based on generative AI and natural language processing. Not only is it able to produce text like poetry or journalistic articles, but it’s also able to create computer code.
On command, it creates websites, apps, and even basic games in any of a number of different software development languages. However, creating a sophisticated app or another piece of software is currently beyond its abilities.
When it comes to software development, the effectiveness of ChatGPT and current NLP-based tools is still quite limited. The machine still doesn’t know what types of code or applications are needed to achieve a goal, design a better platform, or gain a business advantage. It still can’t come up with the original ideas. Human creativity and ingenuity are still far superior.
This doesn’t mean that NLP-based tools can’t be useful, though. On the contrary, they can be very valuable.
Developers can use ChatGPT as an assistant that can generate code from natural language input. It has the potential to accelerate many coding routine tasks. It can be used to quickly create frameworks, or outline builds of applications.
ChatGPT can be useful to ensure that your code structure covers all the necessary bases for your application to function properly. It can also help debug existing code. And not only that: it can also explain what the problem is.
ChatGPT can indicate how the data should be structured and what user interface features are required, which can significantly improve the user experience. It also has a significant impact on tasks such as data processing and web development.
The future of natural language processing
We can speculate, but in reality, no one knows what the future holds. However, the transformative potential of AI and natural language processing shouldn’t be underestimated.
Their recent advances and new uses in software development show a huge capacity to radically transform our future business and society.
With this in mind, we should embrace this advancing technology and use it to enhance our own skills. Because, it seems it’s safe to say that we are just at the beginning of the NLP journey and that it’ll be an interesting ride.