Lovelace lecture 2008

What do we mean? Computational approaches to natural semantics

Speaker: Dr Ann Copestake. Ann will deliver the lecture in tribute to the 2007 Lovelace medal winner, Prof Karen Spärck Jones. The lecture will include tributes from Prof Wendy Hall and Dr David Hartley, both of whom knew Prof Spärck Jones very well.

Semantic representation and processing is central to relating speech and text to the information conveyed, but natural language meaning is inherently messy (or flexible) and sloppy (or adaptable); it has resisted attempts at formalisation, except in the very limited situations where language is used to talk about tiny, closed ‘worlds’.

Recent research approaches this by exploiting approximate and partial representations of semantics: semantic interpretation can be seen as adding layers of annotation to text rather than completely replacing it with logical expressions.

This lecture describes some illustrative examples of research in computational semantics, relating this, where possible, to the pioneering work of Prof Karen Spärck Jones.

There will be a discussion on practical applications, concentrating, in particular, on scientific text processing and considering how this might relate to semantic web publishing and to Prof Spärck Jones’s concept of an information layer.