NLP Overview

This essay is aimed at giving a very brief introduction to the area of natual language processing and to try and familiarise the reader with some of the terminology thrown around in the papers, research and tutorials.

First and foremost, we need to define what we mean by Natural Language Processing or NLP. The first and most general definition is simply that NLP encompasses anything a computer needs to do in order for it to understand natural language (whether it be typed or spoken).

We'll concentrate on natural language understanding (NLU); the task of understanding and reasoning with a natural language input, and ignore the issues of natural language generation; the generation of natural language output, since both use the same processes, just in a different order.

Figure 1

Figure 1 shows the major steps necessary to decode a natural language sentence into a representation a computer can understand and then, ultimately, perform a suitable action.

Each process in the diagram is progressively harder than the previous one, and less and less about the best method to tackle the problem is known

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