Understanding Language Understanding

KMDI at 13, Knowledge Media Design Institute Lecture Series in “Digital Media Research and Innovation at the University of Toronto”, Part II.

Date: Tuesday April 14th, 2009
Time: 4:10 pm – 6:00 pm
Place: Bahen Centre for IT, Room 1210, 40 St. George Street, University of Toronto St. George Campus 

Understanding Language Understanding

“Understanding Speech” by Professor Gerald Penn, Department of Computer Science, University of Toronto.

Abstract: A tacit assumption made in the heyday of the late 1990s was that everyone wanted speech - we simply must build it, and they will come. It has since become increasingly clear that voice interfaces and speech recognition are not the appropriate means of interacting in every circumstance. Recent research in spoken language processing has had to very carefully contextualize itself with respect to how it will be used. I will discuss some of the shortcomings, challenges and successes of realistically using speech in human-computer interfaces.

Brief Bio:
Dr. Gerald Penn obtained his Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University in 2000, and worked as a research scientist at Eberhard-Karls-University of Tübingen, Germany (1996 to 1999) and at Bell Laboratories in the United States (1999 to 2001) before joining the U of T’s Department of Computer Science. He is involved in a number of research projects including ALE, the Attribute-Logic Engine, a freeware logic programming language for natural language grammars, and NECTAR, the Network for Effective Collaboration Technologies through Advanced Research, a project funded by NSERC. Professor Penn’s research primarily focuses on discrete algorithms to support natural language technology. His interests lie in Natural Language Processing, Mathematical Linguistics, Logic Programming, Description Logics, Linear Logic, Constructive Type Theory, Finite State Methods, Computational Morphology, and Pronunciation Modelling. Professor Penn currently teaches three courses, Introduction to the Theory of Computation, Discrete Mathematical Models of Sentence Structure, and Natural Language Computing. He is a member of the Mathematics of Language Society, serves on the editorial boards of a number of publications including Computational Linguistics and Linguistics and Philosophy, and is a frequent presenter at the annual meetings of the Association for Computational Linguistics.


“Understanding Text from Both the User’s and the Writer’s Perspective” by Professor Graeme Hirst, Department of Computer Science, University of Toronto.

Abstract: This talk will describe how sophisticated new applications in computational linguistics and natural language processing, such as intelligence gathering and question answering, will lead to changes in how users and natural language systems view the idea of what the meaning of a text is. Writer-based and reader-based views of text-meaning are reflected by the respective questions “What is the author trying to tell me?” and “What does this text mean to me personally?” This talk will discuss different views of text-meaning from the perspective of computational text analysis.


Brief Bio: Dr. Graeme Hirst's research interests cover a range of topics in computational linguistics, natural language processing, and related areas, including lexical semantics, the resolution of ambiguity in text, the preservation of author’s style in machine translation, recovering from misunderstanding and non-understanding in human-computer communication, and linguistic constraints on knowledge-representation systems. He was the founding editor of Canadian Artificial Intelligence, and serves as Book Review Editor of Computational Linguistics. He is the author of two monographs: Anaphora in Natural Language Understanding and Semantic Interpretation and the Resolution of Ambiguity. He is the recipient of two awards for excellence in teaching, and a Distinguished Service Award from the Canadian Artificial Intelligence Association. He has supervised more than 35 theses and dissertations, four of which have been published as books. He was elected Chair of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics for 2004–05 and Treasurer of the Association for 2008–12.


“Understanding an Author's Intentions with Computer Text Analysis” by Professor Ian Lancashire, Department of English, University of Toronto.

Abstract: Among the earliest knowledge media, writing relies on literacy, a cognitive tool in uttering and understanding speech. Yet, as Socrates and David Olson say, and as English literature courses prove, writing problematizes meaning, ignores authorial intention, and hinders effective communication. This talk will (contra Roland Barthes’ useful obiter dictum, that the author is dead) talk about how we can find the human being in his text and take a little step in remediating the dehumanizing side-effects of literacy in knowledge media.

Brief Bio: Dr. Ian Lancashire (FRSC) teaches English at New College and edits Representative Poetry Online and Lexicons of Early Modern English. He was founding director of the Centre for Computing in the Humanities 1985-96 (now CHASS) and now is part of the TAPoR and Synergies CFI networks. His research fields are Early Modern English literature, drama, and lexicography, the digital humanities (text analysis, cybertextuality, and online teaching), poetry in English, speculative fiction, and Shakespeare. He is now writing a book about how authoring works.


The talk will be webcast live & an archive will be available.  Instructions to view the webcast:


Requirements: All you need to participate is a fast internet connection (1mb/sec), a screen resolution of 1024x768 or higher and Flash Player v.9+


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Press it to enter the webcast.


For more information please feel free to visit our website at http://www.kmdi.utoronto.ca. 

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