FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Monday, January 31, 2005

Computers are Lousy Readers

The process of watching a child learn how to read is nothing short of fascinating. The moment when a child "gets it" and can not only recognize letters and words, but understand what he or she is reading, is a testament to the power of the human mind.

Understanding the context of the written word, however, has so far eluded even the most powerful computers. Indeed, we're all familiar with OCR programs that scan a printed page and spew out gibberish. Now, the Pentagon is taking on the challenge of developing literate computers.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency -- the good folks who brought you, among other things, the Internet -- has contracted with scientists to develop a computer system that can learn by understanding natural language, the way people do, as well as interpret nuance. The idea is to develop computers that can be taken into the battlefield and adapt to constantly changing, chaotic surroundings. A truly literate computer could be given an open-ended instruction, such as "go scout out that area over there," and be able to execute it.

Source: AP (Excite)