Natural language processing

Natural Language Processing: What It Is, Why It Matters

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What is natural language processing (NLP) and how is it affecting today’s business world?

This technology is one of many AI-powered capabilities that will drive new levels of productivity and efficiency in the workplace. According to many, in fact, AI tools such as this are set to reshape the very world we live in.


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Among other things, for instance, tools such as chatbots – which rely heavily on natural language proessing – will vastly reduce the need for customer service reps in call centers, online, and perhaps even in retail outlets.

According to VentureBeat, for instance, Procter and Gamble has already used this type of technology to automate 80% of its customer service rep tasks.

In no small part, this automation was fueled by natural language processing.

Below, we’ll learn how it works, how it can be used in the business world, and what to expect in the future.

Natural Language Processing in a Nutshell

Natural language processing allows computers to process human language, such as voice commands or text-based input.

While computers technically can’t “understand” human language, more recent developments in AI enable computers to process the complexities of natural language. 

This has historically not been possible, since human language is quite complex.

For instance, punctuation, intonation, grammar, pronunciation, and countless other factors make it difficult to process an unstructured data set such as human language.

Yet AI has changed all that.

Natural language processing, or NLP for short, gives AI the ability to:

  • Recognize human speech
  • Recognize individual letters from images
  • Categorize and tag parts of speech
  • Analyze the semantics of text or speech
  • Generate grammatically and semantically correct text
  • Categorize the sentiment, or emotions, of text-based input

All of these capabilities either fall under NLP or are closely related to NLP. 

When these functions are combined, AI can perform tasks that weren’t possible just a few short years ago.

How NLP Is Changing the Business World

Today, NLP is being widely used by some of the world’s most innovative AI companies, from Amazon to Google to Apple, among many others. Also, creative startups have begun leveraging this technology and commercializing it, opening up new possibilities for businesses of every size.

Here are just a few real-world examples of how NLP is being used today:

  • Virtual assistants. Siri, Google Now, and Alexa are all examples of virtual assistants that can understand speech and execute commands. 
  • Speech-to-text functions. Dictation software has seen an uptick in popularity as well. This can be used in business or for personal use, eliminating the need to type text. 
  • Textual analysis. In certain business areas, such as law, text summarization and analysis can significantly improve efficiency, reduce human labor, and simplify workflows.
  • Social media monitoring. Brands can use sentiment analysis tools to quickly comb social media and analyze employees’ sentiment on certain topics. 
  • Text generation. Recent advances, such as GPT-3, allow AI to automatically create text content, which can be used in areas such as journalism and copywriting.

Text-based applications such as these are set to change the business world and significantly enhance business performance, productivity, and efficiency. Some, in fact, suggest that the introduction of these types of tools will completely alter the workplace.

What Does NLP Mean For the Future of Work?

To understand how NLP will reshape the future of work, it is useful to look at today’s trends, then project them forward by several years. That is, we can predict that today’s trends will continue to grow over time and, as a result, have a greater impact than they are today.

For instance:

  • Chatbots will become more widespread, which will continue to improve performance in areas such as customer service and technical support
  • Text summarization and analysis tools will become more sophisticated, which will increase efficiency in certain business fields, such as law
  • Virtual assistants will become more capable, which will increase their adoption, both in the workplace and at home
  • Speech recognition and processing will improve, which, among other things, will drive further adoption of voice-based search, shopping, and voice interfaces
  • The increased adoption of NLP will affect workforce dynamics, decreasing the need for many low-skilled jobs, while increasing the need for jobs in areas such as computer science
  • New job categories and specialties will arise as a result of NLP, such as NLP programming positions and voice user interface designers

In short, NLP is like any other technology – it is an automation platform that will open up new possibilities, while eliminating old ones.  Staying up-to-date with this technology can help businesses prepare for tomorrow’s economy, which will undoubtedly make heavy use of NLP and other AI technologies.

Key Takeaways

Natural language processing (NLP) opens up new frontiers, allowing AI to process, analyze, and generate natural human language. 

There are limitations to NLP and AI, of course – AI cannot think or feel, for instance – and it is important to understand those limits.

However, NLP promises to revolutionize many areas of business and our personal life, from customer service to the way we interact with computers.

Those who understand these trends will be better prepared to take advantage of them when they do arrive.

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