A friend sent me a list of English words the are spelled the same but have different meanings. They are examples of usage that often trip up foreigners. Here are three examples:
I did not object to the object.
The insurance was invalid for the invalid
They were too close to the door to close it
Certainly, learning subtle speech is hard on any foreigner, but try teaching those subtleties to a computer like Watson, the machine that defeated human opponents on Jeopardy in 2011. As Michal Lev-Ram points out in his article “Teaching Watson the meaning of OMG,” knowing reams of facts doesn’t count as a defining trait for humans, otherwise the Encyclopedia Britannica or even Wikipedia would be considered one of us. What is human, and a puzzle to computers, is how to make small talk, that “stuff” we say at parties, for example. (“Teaching Watson the Meaning of ‘OMG’” by Michal Lev-Ram, Fortune, 1/13/ pg. 70.)
Eric Brown, a research scientist at IBM, is charged with the task of tutoring Watson in the art of small talk as well as how to understand slang. It’s proving to be a challenge.
“We don’t realize how ambiguous the language is,” says Brown. (Ibid, pg. 70.) In his first attempt at tutoring Watson, he uploaded the Urban Dictionary which contains slang words for English. Not only did the computer fail to distinguish the various interpretations of “cool and “hot,” but it developed what can only described as a “potty” mouth, being unable to distinguish “bullshit” from “nonsense,” for example. Watson’s language became so colorful, Brown had to erase the Urban Dictionary from its memory.
At the moment, he has given up trying to teach Watson the nuisances of human language and is training the machine to serve as a diagnostic tool for hospitals. No need for “bullshit” there. OMG, I just used a potty mouth word twice in this blog. Well, what can I say? I’m human.
(Courtesy of www.catalwwysthouse.net)