Chatbots Talk: Science Museum Late, 28 Oct 2015

I’m giving at talk at the Science Museum Late on October 28th. Come learn about Chatbots and Margaret Masterman!

Chattering Bots and Computer Poetry: Margaret Masterman and Computer Talk since 1955

Fifty years before Google Translate appeared on the market, a pioneering linguist was trumpeting the possibilities of Machine Translation. Margaret Masterman (1910-1986) was a philosopher (one of Wittgenstein’s students), linguist and innovator in the application of computing power to language study. Only eleven years after the Colossus was built at Bletchley Park, Masterman was using early computers to automate translation and investigate the structures of languages at the centre she co-founded: the Cambridge Language Research Unit. So ahead of its time, this work was largely dismissed in the early 1960s; half a century later that early research is of foundational importance to Artificial Intelligence, Information Retrieval (such as used by Google Search) and natural language processing.
In the mid 1960s Masterman was a keen proponent of the practical possibilities of this research: computer-generated love letters and haikus, for example. This talk will sketch out the importance of her work today using some similarly tangible contemporary examples. Remember the Microsoft Paperclip? That uses natural language processing to understand what it is being asked; so do automated telephone systems. Think your Twitter followers are all human? Think again: almost a quarter are bots. Instant Messaging with a “bored horny housewife” online? She’s probably a chatbot. You might never have heard of Masterman, but her research has heard of – and talked to – you.

Written by:

Rebecca Roach was a Postdoctoral Research Associate on this project until 2018. She is now Lecturer in Contemporary Literature at... read more about: Rebecca Roach