Natural Language – Computer Understanding

Apple Siri, Amazon Echo, Google Voice, Microsoft Clippy or whatever you call them, the fact of the matter is that voice-control and virtual assistants are coming – and in a big way!

voice collage

  • Why? To make the user experience better to interact with computers just like you would with humans.
  • So what’s the big deal? Having a computer understand human language is extremely difficult.

Every single major IT company including Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Salesforce, Apple (and many others) have invested significant efforts in the area of ‘Artificial Intelligence (AI), Neural Networks or Natural Language Processing (NLP)’. I will group these terms together of the purpose of this article, and I provide some specific definition below, but please know the essence is of machine-learning, where a computer thinks (and reacts) with logic and not an algorithm.

  • Artificial Intelligence definition: the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.
  • Neural Network definition: a computer system modeled on the human brain and nervous system.
  • Natural Language Processing definition: is a field of computer science, artificial intelligence, and computational linguistics concerned with the interactions between computers and human (natural) languages. As such, NLP is related to the area of human–computer interaction.


As I mentioned earlier there has been a lot of investment and research in the areas of AI and NLP, so the question begs why are we seeing such a big push in the consumer market of voice-control technology all of a sudden?

That is a reasonable question and I think it’s easily answered by two words: ‘The Cloud’! First, you need unimaginable amounts of data to ‘train’ a computer. For example, IBM Watson, at its core only knows two things which are binary (or 1’s and 0’s, yes or no, true or false). To make IBM Watson, Jeopardy-worthy it had to be pumped with years and years of library data for it to ‘learn’. My point is that without this very specific training, a computer system as powerful as Watson still cannot communicate like humans do naturally every day. Secondly, massive compute-power is required. ‘The Cloud’ offers both access to unimaginable amounts of data plus massive compute-power where, finally, computer systems an achieve machine-learning capabilities in earnest.

I was fortunate enough to work at a company called ABBYY for the past 4+ years. ABBYY is known in the industry as a leader in Optical Character Recognition (OCR), which is true and one of the reasons I decided to join the company, however and what I was pleasantly surprised to quickly learn, was that high-quality OCR was a result of a much bigger vision. This bigger vision was from David Yang, ABBYY founder, and his passion to help people understand each other. It might sound simple but with so many different languages, interpretations of language and structure of language it is impossible to apply scientific logic to understand meaning or intention that a computer might understand.


  • Introduction of ABBYY Machine Translation (click here to see some great use case examples for NLP)

Eugene describes the use cases for NLP technology including:

  • Keyword vs. Semantic Search
  • Syntactic language parsing
  • Semantic indexing
  • Contextual understanding
  • Document classification
  • Similar documents

It was my great honor to work with some serious Linguistic scientists and learn a little bit about the complications of NLP, and true language understanding. Previously I had thought, probably like most of us reading this article, ‘why can’t Apple Siri understand what I’m saying?’. ‘Why is she so dumb about her answers?’. I do recall those reactions and it still happens to-this-day. The magic of Siri is not the voice recognition itself of word-for-word conversion, but rather the understanding of the complete question or command in a full sentence. I learned that to understand human language, meaning and intent is nearly impossible, even with the greatest scientific-minds and compute-power completely focused on such realization.


In summary, and probably in the not so distant future, I can imagine the reality of our everyday lives being controlled by voice-command. It is an undeniable trend. The domain names of, and will become hot comities as collectors gobble-up such forward-thinking treasures. A day where you walk in your front door and say something such as ‘summer-time’ and your stereo immediately starts summer-time music, then the shades automatically turn to a sandy-location and then your television instantly clicks on-to a refreshing beach sunset! Ahhhhh, so tropical. This is all within our grasp now and will soon be a realization for you.

vr living roon

The Event

john_hayden_rachelleMy younger brother, John, got married to his terrific fiancée, Rachelle this past weekend at a gorgeous venue of the Butte County Country Club. In attendance for our immediate family where John (the groom), Haiden (his son), me (Kevin Neal), my stunning wife Brandee and our eldest/wisest brother Mike. We all enjoyed a marvelous Wedding between two wonderful people and a coming together of two families. John and Rachelle, Brandee and I sincerely wish you the very best on your newly combined family. We look forward to many years of great times and fantastic memories.

As a starter let me please recap my memories of your fabulous day in the article below:

The Venue

venueThere were roughly 200 people in attendance and the ceremony was held on the lawn of the Country Club just outside of the clubhouse under two large oak trees. All the logistics of the Wedding were clearly well-arranged and it was absolutely the perfect place for John and Rachelle’s special day because of the careful planning. In retrospect I’m in even more in awe of how they planned to keep 200+ people’s attention in one area for hours to participate in pre-ceremony activities, the ceremony itself, photos, dinner, dancing and after-party!

The Arrangements

flowers by rachelleRachelle is a member of AIFD, or American Institute of Floral Designers, and has owned her own floral shop, Flowers by Rachelle, for many years. Therefore, as you can imagine, she is well-connected with a talented professional network of gifted friends that specialize in various areas of event presentation such as floral (obviously) but also lighting, sound and photography.

The Pre-Ceremony

john_mom_weddingThe weather on the day of John and Rachelle’s wedding was absolutely perfect. It was about 75 degrees with a light breeze and sunny in Chico, California.

Before the actually ceremonies started, and as people arrived for the wedding, there was some time for the attendees to mingle and meet each other. It was absolutely amazing to participate in such a diverse group of people, who did not know each other previously, freely gather and have fun to celebrate John and Rachelle’s special day.

dad and rachelle weddingOne thing that I must absolutely share is my extreme gratitude to Rachelle herself, Rachelle’s family and Rachelle’s friends for their great caring of John and my parents; Floyd and Sharen Neal. So many strangers came up to introduce themselves to Mom and Dad.

Rachelle made an extra special effort to include them on her special day. That is simple precious; thanks Rachelle. You made a lifetime wonderful memory for Mom and Dad. 🙂


The Ceremony

rachelle_and_dadAs excitement for the ceremony mounted and nearly everyone had arrived just before the 4:00pm start-time, there was a buzz among the attendees. Then, after years of courtship and months of preparation, it was time for John and Rachelle’s Wedding to begin. Everyone was asked to take their seats and The Ceremony began viagra tablets india. The music started and family members walked down the aisle of flower-pedals which was a subliminal theme (I think at least) for bringing two individuals together as a bigger family.

The Vows

john_rachelle_haiden_pouring sandAnother very special moment was the wedding vows themselves. Both John and Rachelle read their vows to each other with a personal touch, sincerity and passion. This was clearly an emotional moment for both of them where their love for each other was never more evident. After John had read his vows to Rachelle, Travis, who is one of John’s best friends from college and his best-man for the Wedding, delivering the ring to place on Rachelle’s finger. Rachelle then recited her emotional vow to John and Haiden (John’s 7-year old son) delivered the ring for Rachelle to place on John’s finger. I like tadacip

 The Photos

bridgeAfter such a great Ceremony the only way to truly capture such essence is through photography. I am still collecting photos but there is a huge collection already of fantastic pictures. The few as ‘Mr. John & Rachelle Neal’ photos that I’ve seen from the photographers are stunning. I cannot wait to see the entire collection.

A fabulous future

Overall, the Wedding was an incredible success. It was beautiful, obviously, as you can see in all the photos in this blog post. Then all the positive social interaction between friends and family was so refreshing.

John, Rachelle and Haiden could not have established a more solid foundation for their future. I am so happy for my brother! John, you are a good person and deserve the best. And you have the best in Rachelle. Rachelle, please take care of my brother now, tomorrow and into the future.


But for now, forget all this long-term commitment junk and just go enjoy yourselves on your well-deserved honeymoon! I’m so happy for my brother’s happiness and I’m so grateful to gain the sister I’ve always wanted in Rachelle! Welcome to the family Rachelle, for better or worse, we are family — and I couldn’t be more proud to have you as my sister.