Article | June 10, 2021
We discursive creatures are construed within a meaningful, bounded communicative environment, namely context(s) and not in a vacuum.
Context(s) co-occur in different scenarios, that is, in mundane talk as well as in academic discourse where the goal of natural language communication is mutual intelligibility, hence the negotiation of meaning. Discursive research focuses on the context-sensitive use of the linguistic code and its social practice in particular settings, such as medical talk, courtroom interactions, financial/economic and political discourse which may restrict its validity when ascribing to a theoretical framework and its propositions regarding its application. This is also reflected in the case of artificial intelligence approaches to context(s) such as the development of context-sensitive parsers, context-sensitive translation machines and context-sensitive information systems where the validity of an argument and its propositions is at stake.
Context is at the heart of pragmatics or even better said context is the anchor of any pragmatic theory: sociopragmatics, discourse analysis and ethnomethodological conversation analysis. Academic disciplines, such as linguistics, philosophy, anthropology, psychology and literary theory have also studied various aspects of the context phenomena. Yet, the concept of context has remained fuzzy or is generally undefined. It seems that the denotation of the word [context] has become murkier as its uses have been extended in many directions.
Context or/ and contexts? Now in order to be “felicitous” integrated into the pragmatic construct, the definition of context needs some delimitations. Depending on the frame of research, context is delimitated to the global surroundings of the phenomenon to be investigated, for instance if its surrounding is of extra-linguistic nature it is called the socio-cultural context, if it comprises features of a speech situation, it is called the linguistic context and if it refers to the cognitive material, that is a mental representation, it is called the cognitive context. Context is a transcendental notion which plays a key role in interpretation.
Language is no longer considered as decontextualized sentences. Instead language is seen as embedded in larger activities, through which they become meaningful. In a dynamic outlook on communication, the acts of speaking (which generates a form discourse, for instance, conversational discourse, lecture or speech) and interpreting build contexts and at the same time constrain the building of such contexts. In Heritage’s terminology, “the production of talk is doubly contextual” (Heritage 1984: 242). An utterance relies upon the existing context for its production and interpretation, and it is, in its own right, an event that shapes a new context for the action that will follow. A linguistic context can be decontextualized at a local level, and it can be recontextualized at a global level. There is intra-discursive recontextualization anchored to local decontextualization, and there is interdiscursive recontextualization anchored to global recontextualization. “A given context not only 'legislates' the interpretation of indexical elements; indexical elements can also mold the background of the context” (Ochs, 1990). In the case of recontextualization, in a particular scenario, it is valid to ask what do you mean or how do you mean. Making a reference to context and a reference to meaning helps to clarify when there is a controversy about the communicative status and at the same time provides a frame for the recontextualization.
A linguistic context is intrinsically linked to a social context and a subcategory of the latter, the socio-cultural context. The social context can be considered as unmarked, hence a default context, whereas a socio-cultural context can be conceived as a marked type of context in which specific variables are interpreted in a particular mode. Culture provides us, the participants, with a filter mechanism which allows us to interpret a social context in accordance with particular socio-cultural context constraints and requirements. Besides, socially constitutive qualities of context are unavoidable since each interaction updates the existing context and prepares new ground for subsequent interaction.
Now, how these aforementioned conceptualizations and views are reflected in NLP? Most of the research work has focused in the linguistic context, that is, in the word level surroundings and the lexical meaning. An approach to producing sense embeddings for the lexical meanings within a lexical knowledge base which lie in a space that is comparable to that of contextualized word vectors.
Contextualized word embeddings have been used effectively across several tasks in Natural Language Processing, as they have proved to carry useful semantic information. The task of associating a word in context with the most suitable meaning from a predefined sense inventory is better known as Word Sense Disambiguation (Navigli, 2009). Linguistically speaking, “context encompasses the total linguistic and non-linguistic background of a text” (Crystal, 1991). Notice that the nature of context(s) is clearly crucial when reconstructing the meaning of a text. Therefore, “meaning-in-context should be regarded as a probabilistic weighting, of the list of potential meanings available to the user of the language.” The so-called disambiguating role of context should be taken with a pinch of salt.
The main reason for language models such as BERT (Devlin et al., 2019), RoBERTA (Liu et al., 2019) and SBERT (Reimers, 2019) proved to be beneficial in most NLP task is that contextualized embeddings of words encode the semantics defined by their input context. In the same vein, a novel method for contextualized sense representations has recently been employed: SensEmBERT (Scarlini et al., 2020) which computes sense representations that can be applied directly to disambiguation.
Still, there is a long way to go regarding context(s) research. The linguistic context is just one of the necessary conditions for sentence embeddedness in “a” context. For interpretation to take place, well-formed sentences and well-formed constructions, that is, linguistic strings which must be grammatical but may be constrained by cognitive sentence-processability and pragmatic relevance, particular linguistic-context and social-context configurations, which make their production and interpretation meaningful, will be needed.
Article | March 15, 2021
Stephen Hawking, one of the finest minds to have ever lived, once famously said, “AI is likely to be either the best or the worst thing to happen to humanity.” This is of course true, with valid arguments both for and against the proliferation of AI.
As a practitioner, I have witnessed the AI revolution at close quarters as it unfolded at breathtaking pace over the last two decades. My personal view is that there is no clear black and white in this debate. The pros and cons are very contextual – who is developing it, for what application, in what timeframe, towards what end?
It always helps to understand both sides of the debate. So let’s try to take a closer look at what the naysayers say. The most common apprehensions can be clubbed into three main categories:
A. Large-scale Unemployment: This is the most widely acknowledged of all the risks of AI. Technology and machines replacing humans for doing certain types of work isn’t new. We all know about entire professions dwindling, and even disappearing, due to technology. Industrial Revolution too had led to large scale job losses, although many believe that these were eventually compensated for by means of creating new avenues, lowering prices, increasing wages etc.
However, a growing number of economists no longer subscribe to the belief that over a longer term, technology has positive ramifications on overall employment. In fact, multiple studies have predicted large scale job losses due to technological advancements. A 2016 UN report concluded that 75% of jobs in the developing world are expected to be replaced by machines!
Unemployment, particularly at a large scale, is a very perilous thing, often resulting in widespread civil unrest. AI’s potential impact in this area therefore calls for very careful political, sociological and economic thinking, to counter it effectively.
B. Singularity: The concept of Singularity is one of those things that one would have imagined seeing only in the pages of a futuristic Sci-Fi novel. However, in theory, today it is a real possibility. In a nutshell, Singularity refers to that point in human civilization when Artificial Intelligence reaches a tipping point beyond which it evolves into a superintelligence that surpasses human cognitive powers, thereby potentially posing a threat to human existence as we know it today.
While the idea around this explosion of machine intelligence is a very pertinent and widely discussed topic, unlike the case of technology driven unemployment, the concept remains primarily theoretical. There is as yet no consensus amongst experts on whether this tipping point can ever really be reached in reality.
C. Machine Consciousness: Unlike the previous two points, which can be regarded as risks associated with the evolution of AI, the aspect of machine consciousness perhaps is best described as an ethical conundrum. The idea deals with the possibility of implanting human-like consciousness into machines, taking them beyond the realm of ‘thinking’ to that of ‘feeling, emotions and beliefs’.
It’s a complex topic and requires delving into an amalgamation of philosophy, cognitive science and neuroscience. ‘Consciousness’ itself can be interpreted in multiple ways, bringing together a plethora of attributes like self-awareness, cause-effect in mental states, memory, experiences etc. To bring machines to a state of human-like consciousness would entail replicating all the activities that happen at a neural level in a human brain – by no means a meagre task.
If and when this were to be achieved, it would require a paradigm shift in the functioning of the world. Human society, as we know it, will need a major redefinition to incorporate machines with consciousness co-existing with humans. It sounds far-fetched today, but questions such as this need pondering right now, so as to be able to influence the direction in which we move when it comes to AI and machine consciousness, while things are still in the ‘design’ phase so to speak.
While all of the above are pertinent questions, I believe they don’t necessarily outweigh the advantages of AI. Of course, there is a need to address them systematically, control the path of AI development and minimize adverse impact. In my opinion, the greatest and most imminent risk is actually a fourth item, not often taken into consideration, when discussing the pitfalls of AI.
D. Oligarchy: Or to put it differently, the question of control. Due to the very nature of AI – it requires immense investments in technology and science – there are realistically only a handful of organizations (private or government) that can make the leap into taking AI into the mainstream, in a scalable manner, and across a vast array of applications. There is going to be very little room for small upstarts, however smart they might be, to compete at scale against these.
Given the massive aspects of our lives that will likely be steered by AI enabled machines, those who control that ‘intelligence’ will hold immense power over the rest of us. That all familiar phrase ‘with great power, comes great responsibility’ will take a whole new meaning – the organizations and/or individuals that are at the forefront of the generally available AI applications would likely have more power than the most despotic autocrats in history. This is a true and real hazard, aspects of which are already becoming areas of concern in the form of discussions around things like privacy.
In conclusion, AI, like all major transformative events in human history, is certain to have wide reaching ramifications. But with careful forethought these can be addressed. In the short to medium term, the advantages of AI in enhancing our lives, will likely outweigh these risks. Any major conception that touches human lives in a broad manner, if not handled properly, can pose immense danger. The best analogy I can think of is religion – when not channelled appropriately, it probably poses a greater threat than any technological advancement ever could.
Article | February 25, 2020
Internet of Things, according to congressional research service (CRS) report 2020, is a system of interrelated devices connected to a network and/or to one another, exchanging data without necessarily requiring human to machine interaction.The report cites smart factories, smart home devices, medical monitoring devices, wearable fitness trackers, smart city infrastructures, and vehicular telematics as examples of IoT.
Article | February 28, 2020
An enormous amount of data is generated daily through various medium and amid this their storage becomes a great concern for organizations. Currently, two significant styles of data storage capacities are available Cloud and Data Centre.The main difference between the cloud vs. data centre is that a data centre refers to on-premise hardware while the cloud refers to off-premise computing. The cloud stores the data in the public cloud, while a data centre stores the data on company’s own hardware. Many businesses are turning to the cloud. In fact, Gartner, Inc. predicted that the worldwide public cloud services market has grown to 17.5 percent in 2019 to total US$214.3 billion. For many businesses, utilizing the cloud makes sense. While, in many other cases, having an in-house data centre is a better option. Often, maintaining an in-house data centre is expensive, but it can be beneficial to be in total control of computing environment.