MIT21W_784F09_Seeking_Mem - Seeking the Meme The Memetics...

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Seeking the Meme The Memetics of Language Processing By MIT Student Human interfaces remain by far the most crude and restricted element of computer systems today. In an age when a digital device that fits in the palm of the hand can record video, play music, and connect two people from halfway across the globe, interaction between man and machine is still largely restricted to hitting buttons and moving mice. The reason for this rudimentary design is the basic difference in how people and computers think. So disparate are their methods that any communication must be reduced to a series of key presses or pointer movements. Of course, individuals with the necessary technical expertise are capable of understanding the languages of machines, but there is yet to be a computer able to comprehend the complexities and ambiguities of human speech. The development of such a machine is one of the ultimate goals of the discipline known as computational linguistics. Experts in that field apply their intellects to natural language processing, the attempt to break down human language into basic, unambiguous elements of the sort which a computer is capable of understanding. While the existence of such elements might at first seem unlikely, given the indefinite and contextual nature of natural languages, it is actually an issue which has already been addressed in a different area of study: Memetics. Memetics describes languages as large complexes of interdependent memes, and, as memes are by their atomic nature precise and unambiguous, such an approach clearly shows that the efforts of computational linguists are not in vain, that basic, exact units of language do really exist. Furthermore, meme-theory does not merely prove the existence of such units, but governs them; for the description of these basic language elements
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places them squarely within the definition of memes. Therefore, the practice of natural language processing is, at its core, an attempt to identify the constituent memes that make up human language. Computers are devices of precision. At the most fundamental level they operate on the instructions of numbers. In the language of 0s and 1s there is no room for ambiguity or inexactitude. However, it is an inescapable fact that we humans, for whose benefit computers are designed and built, are neither inclined to nor particularly capable of the same perfect logic as they. Rather, “natural language… serves as the primary vehicle by which people communicate and record information” (Grishman 1). engineers and scientists aim to adapt computers to our needs, to instill in them the capacity for inference and imprecision which we so readily possess and wield. From this endeavor emerged the field of computational linguistics, “the study of computer systems for understanding and generating natural language” (4). While in a sense all practices of linguistic science seek to deconstruct and fully understand language, most such studies are themselves grounded in human communication and therefore susceptible to its logical
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This note was uploaded on 02/09/2012 for the course WRITING 21w.785 taught by Professor Edwardbarrett during the Fall '03 term at MIT.

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MIT21W_784F09_Seeking_Mem - Seeking the Meme The Memetics...

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