The Software Society

Cultural & Economic Impact

Language and Technology

Language is in many ways the definition of what makes us human. It allows us to communicate complex ideas and cooperate as a group. Written language allows us to retain and share knowledge, making the store of human knowledge ever growing.

And technology is accelerating our sharing of knowledge through language. The Web is the premier example, of course. Search engines help us find the information we want almost immediately. Search engines combine language and technology in a complex way. The search engines have gone beyond just looking at what web pages are most referenced with keywords (since this can be gamed). Today, while their methods are largely confidential, evidence suggests that they use language concepts such as semantics (what words and phrases “mean”) to help you find what you are seeking. Thus, searching for “comforters” will get you lists of stores selling bedding supplies, and not web sites that simply use the word “comfort” frequently.

Today language and technology are inextricably intertwined. We communicate with our digital devices by language, with a real or virtual keyboard. We can speak to our device today, e.g., Apple’s Siri or Google’s voice search. The interpretation of language by technology is getting ever more sophisticated as language understanding matures at an exponential rate, driven by more computer power and more data to analyze. Language and technology can’t be separated today.

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