Understanding Natural Language Is Hard
When we listen to someone, do we actually hear and parse what they say,
or do we somehow gestalt what they "must have meant"? Do we actually
construct in our minds a sentence that is close to the one they said,
and has a plausible meaning?
Lots of times I've heard people say something that's patently false, and
yet believe they have expressed themselves clearly. Others have then
supported them, and the look I get is clearly "What the hell is wrong
So I'm starting to collect examples, and perhaps will write about this
more completely and coherently some day.
Here's my first explicit example:
Rodney brooks talks about Elon Musk.
- This famous roboticist doesn't think Elon Musk understands AI
- Actually there is a stronger statement here. I believe the
sentiment intended is:
Can you see the difference? You see, my mother doesn't
think Elon Musk understands AI. The thought
- This famous roboticist thinks Elon Musk doesn't understand AI.
is a thought my mother has never had. In fact it's almost
certainly a thought almost no one in the world has had. So
the sentence as written is extremely weak.
- "Elon Musk understands AI"
Here's another example of weird language things. This tweet:
In that, "Wil Wheaton" (@wilw) wrote:
Each half of this has at least two interpretations.
- I haven't even been in New York City
for 12 hours, and Roman has called me
to go bowling 15 times.
Picking the right interpretation is a matter of working out what the
most plausible meaning would be, and then just assuming that's it.
- I haven't even been in New York City for 12 hours:
- I have been away from NYC for over 12 hours;
- I've been in NYC for only 12 hours.
- Roman has called me to go bowling 15 times:
- Roman has called me 15 times to go bowling;
- Roman has called me, suggesting we go bowling 15 times.
Another one - what does this actually mean?
Does this mean that Apple guarantees that given an iPhone, they guarantee
that after one year it will no longer work?
If that's not what it means:
- How do you know?
- What should it mean?
- How do you know that ?
This is related to the thing I wrote on Not If You Hurry.
Suggest a change ( <--
What does this mean?) /
Send me email
Front Page /
All pages by date /
Site overview /
Top of page