What is Natural Language Processing?

Natural Language Processing technology uses elements of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to process, interpret and generate human language, and it is increasingly becoming a part of everyday life and business. We’re seeing it in all processes where we type, draw, or speak into a digital platform that needs to translate our information into a computerised format – or in the reverse, where a computer creates a message for us to receive.

How is Natural Language Processing used?

This technology is making huge strides every year and becoming ever more refined, and we can expect to see many more creative applications over time. But as of today, these are some of the typical usage areas:

  • Auto-corrected text messages
    We’ve all experienced the frustration – and sometimes hilarity – of auto-corrected text messages. But in truth, we all get tremendous value from this intelligent little support system built into our smartphones. It often helps us type faster and avoid grammatical errors, while also learning our favourite phrases and words for quick access
  • Analysing social media
    Natural Language Processing technology is often used when analysing qualitative data on social media networks. If for example you want to map out the views, sentiments and opinions of users of a particular product, you need to be able to interpret the language people use when talking about it. What adjectives are they using to describe it? How strongly, positively or negatively, do they feel about the product? The system will look at the type of language used, post length and frequency, re-shares and likes – even emoticon
  • SEO keyword analysis
    Many companies use keyword analysis to improve the results of their SEO campaigns. By identifying the search terms customers are using and picking up on the language they use, suppliers can create better marketing messages and ad keywords that resonate more with their audience. In many ways, this type of insight can completely take the guesswork out of online advertising.
  • Chatbots and intelligent assistants
    We’re getting more and more used to seeing interactive applications when we use the internet, like website chatbots and automated customer service apps. And with the arrival of the smart home hub, we’re now talking to physical chatbots in the form of Amazon Echo or Google Home. The voice-based systems typically use a math model called the Hidden Markov Models system (HMM) to ‘listen’ to our input in millisecond clips and match it against pre-recorded speech to understand our voice commands
  • Voice-activated call automation
    Many large public facing organisations like banks and government services use voice commands for callers to navigate through their switchboard system. This can often be helpful for users with visual impairments or a limited ability to press a series of buttons to go through the typical maze of selections, and it can save time by going straight to the operator who can help with a particular issue.
    This type of system is known for being far from perfect when dealing with the general public who may have unusual accents or a difficulty explaining their issue concisely. However, the technology is constantly improving and we can expect these systems to become much better and more polished in the future.
  • Search engine help
    Google and other search engines use adaptive interpretation of keywords, which looks at not just the actual words typed but the context in which they are being used. The average user leaves behind a trail of prior search terms, frequently used keywords and most visited websites – all of which can be analysed by Google to help with suggested interpretations of their search
  • Text summarisation and classification
    When working with a large library of information and documentation, it can be helpful to use Natural Language Processing to summarise and classify text.
    With the help of smart algorithms, this technology can quickly create brief descriptions or synopses of thousands of reports or essays for users to browse through.

Using Natural Language Processing

There are many ways that AI and language processing tools can improve your business, in terms of customer care as well as sales and marketing. However, it is important to always be sensitive to the needs of the user. You should explore new technology and look at ways of automating your business, but ensure that you also design a user experience that meets – or exceeds – the expectations of your customers.