Business Technology

Wednesday 28 September 2016

First we had 'Boaty McBoatface', now Google introduces ‘Parsey McParseface’

James Titcomb

Published 13/05/2016 | 11:06

Photo: Jo Johnson/Twitter
Photo: Jo Johnson/Twitter

Google has some of the world's brightest minds working on cutting-edge technology.

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This is no more evident than in its latest artificial intelligence software, possibly the world's best computer program at understanding English language - a notoriously tricky problem as we try to build machines as smart as humans.

Surely this awesome technology demands a name worthy of its massive potential. Previous Google AI projects have had futuristic monikers like TensorFlow and DeepDream. So what has Google called this latest stride in evolution?

The name, suggested by one member of the team after they had failed to come up with one that suited after 18 months of work on the project, presumably won a vote, the same triumph of democracy that almost saw a £200 million British polar research vessel named "Boaty McBoatface" after more than 100,000 people voted for the name.

Parsey McParseface, putting aside its name for as long as possible, could actually represent a major step in machines' ability to interact with humans.

When we type a sentence into Google or give Siri a command, computers often struggle to understand exactly what we mean. That's because natural language isn't strictly logical, unlike computer code. Words take on different meanings in separate contexts, and strings of different words in varied combinations can mean the same thing.

What Parsey McParseface does is, with remarkable accuracy, parse a sentence - finding the verbs, nouns, adjectives and so on - to make sense of it. This is no easy task given that sentences of 20 or 30 words could have tens of thousands of possible structures.

Google says the new software can digest sentences with 94 per cent accuracy - well above any other software that tries to do the same thing. It is now open-sourcing Parsey McParseface - essentially giving it away for free and allowing software developers to tinker with it to their own ends.

Google's next AI project? Perhaps a program that can answer when we're likely to hit Peaky McPeakface.

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