Language is a complex phenomenon. The study of language is the study of how these sounds or symbols are used to express thoughts. A language is a tool that humans use to communicate with one another. It is also a tool that we use to communicate with computers.

NLP is a branch of linguistics, computer science, artificial intelligence, and information engineering. It focuses on how computers and people interact with each other through (natural) languages. NLP research deals with the question of how to create computer programs that can process large amounts of natural language data.

But what does that really mean?

In this article, we’ll be breaking down the basics of NLP so that you can have a better understanding of what it is and how it’s used.

What is Natural Language Processing?

Natural language processing (NLP) is a branch of artificial intelligence that deals with the interaction between computers and human languages. NLP is used to develop applications that can understand human language and respond in a way that is natural for humans.

NLP is used in many different applications, such as: text mining, machine translation, speech recognition, and information retrieval.

How does Natural Language Processing Work?

NLP is based on the principle that human language can be parsed and understood by computers in much the same way that humans do. In order to accomplish this, NLP algorithms rely on a variety of techniques, including:

-Parsing: This involves breaking down a sentence or paragraph into its individual components (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.) in order to better understand its meaning.

-Part-of-speech tagging: This is a process of assigning a tag (or label) to each word in a sentence indicating its grammatical function. For example, ‘the’ would be tagged as a determiner, ‘dog’ as a noun, and ‘barks’ as a verb.

-Named entity recognition: This involves identifying and classifying named entities in text, such as people, places, organizations, and so on.

-Sentiment analysis: This is the process of determining the overall sentiment of a piece of text, i.e., whether it is positive, negative, or neutral.

-Topic modeling: This is a technique for finding and representing groups of similar words (topics) in a text corpus.

-Word sense disambiguation: This resolves the ambiguity that often exists between words with multiple meanings (e.g., ‘bass’ can refer to a fish or a musical instrument).

Natural language processing algorithms are constantly being improved and refined as computer hardware and software gets more powerful and sophisticated. With each new breakthrough, NLP gets closer to achieving its ultimate goal: providing computers with the ability to automatically understand and interpret human language.

NLP Approaches

There are many different approaches to NLP, but one of the main goals is to develop methods for computers to automatically extract meaning from text. This can be done using statistical methods, rule-based systems, or a combination of both.

  • Statistical NLP approaches involve learning from a training dataset to develop models that can then be used to process new data. This is a powerful approach that has been successful in many applications, such as machine translation and sentiment analysis
  • Rule-based NLP approaches involve using a set of rules to process text. This can be done manually or automatically. Rule-based systems are often used for tasks such as named entity recognition, where a set of rules is defined to identify specific types of entities in text.

Natural Language Processing Applications

NLP techniques are used in a wide range of applications, including:

  • Language translation: 

NLP is the key to making automated language translation possible. Google Translate is one of the most popular examples of an NLP solution in action. However, there are many others, including Microsoft Translator, Yandex.Translate, and DeepL Translator. 

These solutions use a variety of NLP techniques to interpret the meaning of text in one language. Then, produce a translated version in another. These techniques include parsing, part-of-speech tagging, and word sense disambiguation, and more.

  • Digital assistants: 

Like Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Google Assistant, and Microsoft Cortana. These digital assistants all rely on NLP to understand human speech and respond accordingly. 

Moreover, they use a combination of automatic speech recognition (ASR) and natural language understanding (NLU) to interpret the user’s speech and carry out the appropriate actions.

  • Question-answering systems : 

NLP is also behind question-answering systems, which are designed to answer questions posed in natural language. In fact, these systems use a variety of NLP techniques to interpret the user’s question and generate an accurate answer. For instance, some techniques include question decomposition, information retrieval, and text classification, etc.

  • Text summarization: 

Text summarization is another NLP problem that has been largely solved. This task involves automatically generating a short, concise summary of a longer text document. There are many different algorithms for performing text summarization, but all of them rely on NLP’s ability to parse and interpret the meaning of text.

  • Chatbots: 

Chatbots are computer programs that mimic human conversation. They use NLP to understand user input and generate responses accordingly. Chatbots can be used for a variety of purposes, such as customer service, marketing, and information gathering.

  • Spam Detection:  

NLP can also be used to detect spam emails and other unwanted messages. This is typically done using text classification algorithms that are trained on a dataset of known spam messages. These algorithms learn to identify the features that are common in spam messages and can then flag new messages as spam with a high degree of accuracy.

  • Automatic captioning:

Automatic captioning is an NLP solution that is becoming increasingly common, especially in the media and entertainment industry. This task involves automatically generating a caption or description of a video in real-time. The best automatic captioning solutions use a combination of ASR and NLU to interpret the audio track of a video. Then, generate accurate, real-time captions.

Top 4 NLP tools

There are many different NLP tools available, but the four most popular are:

  1. spaCy
  2. NLTK
  3. Gensim
  4. Scikit-learn

spaCy is a free and open-source library for Natural Language Processing (NLP) in Python. It features fast statistical modeling, vectorization, and topic modeling algorithms that can be used to analyze and interpret text data.

NLTK is another popular NLP toolkit that was developed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. It is widely used in academic research. In addition, it features a wide variety of NLP algorithms, including part-of-speech tagging, parsing, and semantic analysis.

Gensim is a free and open-source library for topic modeling in Python. It includes algorithms for Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA) and Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA), which are two of the most popular methods for topic modeling.

Scikit-learn is a free and open-source machine learning library for Python. It features a wide variety of NLP algorithms, including text classification, clustering, and dimensionality reduction.

Challenges of Natural Language Processing

Despite the many successes of NLP, there are still a number of challenges that need to be addressed.

1. Ambiguity: One of the biggest challenges in NLP is ambiguity. Human language is often ambiguous, and this can make it difficult for NLP algorithms to interpret text correctly. For example, the phrase “I saw the man with a telescope” could mean two things. Either that you saw a man who was using a telescope or that you saw a man who had a telescope with him.

2. Context: Another challenge that NLP faces is context. The meaning of a word or phrase can change depending on the context in which it is used. For example, the word “bank” can refer to either a financial institution or the side of a river.

3. Idiomatic expressions: Idiomatic expressions are another challenge for NLP. These are expressions that have a meaning that is different from the literal meaning of the words that make them up. For example, the phrase “I’m pulling your leg” doesn’t literally mean that you are pulling someone’s leg. Rather, it means that you are joking with them.

4. Emotion and sentiment: Detecting emotion and sentiment in text is another challenge for NLP. This is because emotions and sentiments are often expressed indirectly, using metaphors and other figures of speech.

5. Non-standard text: Another challenge that NLP faces is non-standard text. This includes text that is misspelled, abbreviated, or uses slang. For example, the phrase “u r so kewl” is an example of non-standard text. It is difficult for NLP algorithms to interpret this kind of text correctly.

The future of NLP

Natural Language processing is an exciting field with a lot of potential. That’s why businesses and organizations are increasingly using NLP to automate tasks. This includes customer service, market research, and data analysis.

As NLP technology continues to develop, we can expect to see more and more applications for it. So far, NLP has been used for tasks such as machine translation, speech recognition, and text classification. However, there are many other potential applications for NLP. For example, NLP could be used in the healthcare industry, Psychiatry, to help diagnose mental health disorders.

The possibilities for NLP are endless. As NLP technology continues to develop, we can expect to see more and more applications for it.