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[ontolog-forum] What is "understanding" - was: Building on common ground

To: "'[ontolog-forum] '" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Patrick Cassidy" <pat@xxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 29 Mar 2008 16:10:08 -0400
Message-id: <043901c891d8$e31d4990$a957dcb0$@com>
I agree with *almost* everything John S, said here, but need to clarify one
point - what is language "understanding"?    (01)

[JS] >   1. None of the current systems do anything that could be called
"understanding".    (02)

If JS means that none of the current systems can understand normal language
at, say, 80% or better of the human level, I do agree (and I think that most
are much worse).    (03)

And I do want to use an ontology that can support human-level understanding.
So that requires not only building the ontology, but building the language
processing system that will demonstrate that it is useful for that purpose.
I haven't figured out how to do a few person-centuries of work in my spare
time, but language understanding is the ultimate goal that *orients* the
work.  Focusing first on the linguistic and ontological "Defining
Vocabulary" creates a bound that makes the effort somewhat more practical
than general language understanding, or understanding of, e.g., newspaper
text.     (04)

But the way I use the word, "understanding" is a quantitative measure of the
ability of a language processing system to answer questions about the
content of texts.  It is therefore not all-or-nothing, but has levels.
Adult people may vary in this ability too, for any given text.  One can get
into a discussion of how best to measure this attribute of
language-processing systems; the measures used in the " Automatic Content
Extraction" and "Message Understanding Conference" competitions (some data
available at http://www-nlpir.nist.gov/related_projects/muc/) are one
example of an attempt to define and quantify "understanding".  Another test
might be to support a normal conversation with a five-year old, but that
would be harder to quantify.    (05)

I expect that, given a particular text, members of this discussion group
would vary in the list of questions and answers they would create that would
satisfy them individually that an automatic system actually  "understood"
the text to a degree that indicates human-level understanding.  It might be
an interesting exercise for those who want to discuss "understanding" to
first create a text and then have the discussants provide such a list of
questions, and the answers that they think should be produced, so that the
discussion can be concrete.    (06)

There may be better ways to evaluate whether a computer has "understood" a
text.  I would be interested in alternative suggestions.   For Robotic
systems, it may be a bit easier, since commands can be very specific - but
there may be many who would not classify interpretation of text in such
restricted topics as "understanding".  Below a certain level, it is less
contentious to use the term "interpretation" instead of "understanding".
Then we get into a discussion of what that level should be, and how to
measure it.    (07)

PatC    (08)

Patrick Cassidy
cell: 908-565-4053
cassidy@xxxxxxxxx    (09)

> -----Original Message-----
> From: ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:ontolog-forum-
> bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of John F. Sowa
> Sent: Saturday, March 29, 2008 1:20 PM
> To: [ontolog-forum]
> Subject: Re: [ontolog-forum] Building on common ground
> Pat C. and John B.,
> PC>> We are, after all, all grandmasters at the use of our
>  >> native tongue, and no one else's intuition is going to
>  >> be superior to our own.
> Note the word 'use' in the first clause.  Being an expert in
> doing or using something does not imply any ability to describe
> how one does it.
> We are all "grandmasters" in our ability to digest our food.
> But that does not imply any ability to describe the process
> of digestion -- or to implement it in an artificial digester.
> JB> ... first rule of doing linguistic work: don't trust
>  > what native speakers claim about their own language!
> Example:  Many native Chinese speakers make two confused,
> misleading, and false statements about their own language:
>   1. Chinese has no grammar.
>   2. All words are just one syllable long.
> Point #1 merely means that Chinese does not have inflections
> for plurals, tenses, etc.  But it most definitely has a
> grammar that is as rich and complex as any other language.
> Point #2 merely means that each written character represents
> one syllable, and most of those syllables can be used as
> stand-alone words.  But there is a very large number of
> 2, 3, and 4-syllable combinations that correspond to single
> words in other languages.
> PC> I want an ontology that is useful for language *understanding*
>  > and reasoning, and as a basis for specifying meaning for more
>  > complex concepts.
> The question of how people understand language is very poorly
> understood, and there are only two certain claims about computer
> understanding:
>   1. None of the current systems do anything that could be called
>      "understanding".
>   2. There is no consensus whatever on how computers could be
>      designed to understand or what kinds of resources would
>      be needed to facilitate such understanding.
> Given these two points, however, there is a lot of useful
> language processing that can be done, some kinds of ontologies
> have proved to be useful for those purposes, but the question
> of what kind of ontology is a prerequisite for understanding
> (assuming anyone could define that term) is not at all clear.
> John Sowa
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