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Natural Language Processing – Overview

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  • Difficulty Level : Easy
  • Last Updated : 18 Jul, 2021
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Natural language processing (NLP) is a subfield of Artificial Intelligence (AI). This is a widely used technology for personal assistants that are used in various business fields/areas. This technology works on the speech provided by the user, breaks it down for proper understanding and processes accordingly. This is a very recent and effective approach due to which it has a really high demand in today’s market. Natural Language Processing is an upcoming field where already many transitions such as compatibility with smart devices, interactive talks with a human have been made possible. Knowledge representation, logical reasoning, and constraint satisfaction were the emphasis of AI applications in NLP. Here first it was applied to semantics and later to the grammar. In the last decade, a significant change in NLP research has resulted in the widespread use of statistical approaches such as machine learning and data mining on a massive scale. The need for automation is never ending courtesy of the amount of work required to be done these days. NLP is a very favourable, but aspect when it comes to automated applications. The applications of NLP have led it to be one of the most sought-after methods of implementing machine learning. Natural Language Processing (NLP) is a field that combines computer science, linguistics, and machine learning to study how computers and humans communicate in natural language. The goal of NLP is for computers to be able to interpret and generate human language. This not only improves the efficiency of work done by humans but also helps in interacting with the machine. NLP bridges the gap of interaction between humans and electronic devices.


The field is divided into  three different parts:

  1. Speech Recognition — The translation of spoken language into text.
  2. Natural Language Understanding (NLU)  — The computer’s ability to understand what we say.
  3. Natural Language Generation  (NLG) — The generation of natural language by a computer.

NLU and NLG are the key aspects depicting the working of NLP devices. These 2 aspects are very different from each other and are achieved using different methods.

Speech Recognition:

  • First, the computer must take natural language and convert it into artificial language. This is what speech recognition, or speech-to-text, does. This is the first step of NLU.
  • Hidden Markov Models (HMMs) are used in the majority of voice recognition systems nowadays. These are statistical models that use mathematical calculations to determine what you said in order to convert your speech to text.
  • HMMs do this by listening to you talk, breaking it down into small units (typically 10-20 milliseconds), and comparing it to pre-recorded speech to figure out which phoneme you uttered in each unit (a phoneme is the smallest unit of speech).The program then examines the sequence of phonemes and uses statistical analysis to determine the most likely words and sentences you were speaking.

Natural Language Understanding (NLU):

  • The next and hardest step of NLP, is the understanding part.
  • First, the computer must comprehend the meaning of each word. It tries to figure out whether the word is a noun or a verb, whether it’s in the past or present tense, and so on. This is called Part-of-Speech tagging (POS).
  • A lexicon (a vocabulary) and a set of grammatical rules are also built into NLP systems. The most difficult part of NLP is understanding.
  • The machine should be able to grasp what you said by the conclusion of the process. There are several challenges in accomplishing this when considering problems such as words having several meanings (polysemy) or different words having similar meanings (synonymy), but developers encode rules into their NLU systems and train them to learn to apply the rules correctly.

Natural Language Generation (NLG):

  • NLG is much simpler to accomplish. NLG converts a computer’s artificial language into text and can also convert that text into audible speech using text-to-speech technology.
  • First, the NLP system identifies what data should be converted to text. If you asked the computer a question about the weather, it most likely did an online search to find your answer, and from there it decides that the temperature, wind, and humidity are the factors that should be read aloud to you.
  • Then, it organizes the structure of how it’s going to say it. This is similar to NLU except backwards. NLG system can construct full sentences using a lexicon and a set of grammar rules.
  • Finally, text-to-speech takes over. The text-to-speech engine uses a prosody model to evaluate the text and identify breaks, duration, and pitch. The engine then combines all the recorded phonemes into one cohesive string of speech using a speech database.

Technologies related to Natural Language Processing

Machine Translation: NLP is used for language translation from one language to another through a computer.

Chatterbots: NLP is used for chatter bots that communicate with other chat bots or humans through auditory or textual methods.

AI Software: NLP is used in question-answering software for knowledge representation, analytical reasoning as well as information retrieval.

Applications of Natural Language Processing (NLP):

Spam Filters: One of the most irritating things about email is spam. Gmail uses natural language processing (NLP) to discern which emails are legitimate and which are spam. These spam filters look at the text in all the emails you receive and try to figure out what it means to see if it’s spam or not.

Algorithmic Trading: Algorithmic trading is used for predicting stock market conditions. Using NLP, this technology examines news headlines about companies and stocks and attempts to comprehend their meaning in order to determine if you should buy, sell, or hold certain stocks.

 Answering Questions: NLP can be seen in action by using Google Search or Siri Services. A major use of NLP is to make search engines understand the meaning of what we are asking and generating natural language in return to give us the answers.

Summarizing Information: On the internet, there is a lot of information, and a lot of it comes in the form of long documents or articles. NLP is used to decipher the meaning of the data and then provides shorter summaries of the data so that humans can comprehend it more quickly.

Future Scope:

Bots: Chatbots assist clients get to the point quickly by answering inquiries and referring them to relevant resources and products at any time of day or night. To be effective, chatbots must be fast, smart and easy to use, To accomplish this, chatbots employ NLP to understand language, usually over text or voice-recognition interactions

Supporting Invisible UI: Almost every connection we have with machines involves human communication, both spoken and written. Amazon’s Echo is only one illustration of the trend toward putting humans in closer contact with technology in the future. The concept of an invisible or zero user interface will rely on direct communication between the user and the machine, whether by voice, text, or a combination of the two. NLP helps to make this concept a real-world thing.

Smarter Search: NLP’s future also includes improved search, something we’ve been discussing at Expert System for a long time. Smarter search allows a chatbot to understand a customer’s request can enable “search like you talk” functionality (much like you could query Siri) rather than focusing on keywords or topics. Google recently announced that NLP capabilities have been added to Google Drive, allowing users to search for documents and content using natural language.

Future Enhancements: 

  • Companies like Google are experimenting with Deep Neural Networks (DNNs) to push the limits of NLP and make it possible for human-to-machine interactions to feel just like human-to-human interactions.
  • Basic words can be further subdivided into proper semantics and used in NLP algorithms.
  • The NLP algorithms can be used in various languages that are currently unavailable such as regional languages or languages is spoken in rural areas etc.
  • Translation of a sentence in one language to the same sentence in another Language at a broader scope.
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