Saturday, December 17, 2011

The cloud has finally arrived, and it is here to stay.

I used to have the notion that natural language processing was lousy and unreliable by default. And it was not simply a Luddite sentiment. With the sort of new technologies like Siri, however, the times they are-a-changin’. The artificial processing of natural language seems to have finally arrived. And it is here to stay.

Although from the strictly theoretical point of view the juries are still out, it appears that the cloud is definitely a crucial element in the remarkable innovations. The computations are distributed, and the resources are on the web. A self-contained system on the client device would not have succeeded so much. One element is the computational capacity, but the very nature of the network is also a defining factor.

And when you think about it, language has always been about the cloud. When we humans comprehend a word or a sentence, a whole network of knowledge and memories is invoked. The pattern of activation is likely to follow the famous power law. In such a distributed environment, there is no strict central control. The scattered and haphazard nature of processing has always been the defining factor of the conversations that we carry every day. And the chain of causality does not end with an individual brain. Words have been passed on from people to people, over the years, mediated by spoken words, written records, on the air, and through accidental encounters.

In the technology world the cloud has just arrived. Among our brains, the cloud has always been here. The cloud has finally arrived, and it is here to stay.