Technical Workshops

Reasoning With Text

February 18-19, 2011 | USC ICT

Conference Website: Reasoning with Text

Intelligent robots of the future are going to need to know a lot of stuff. They are going to need to know how a power outage will affect my plans for a holiday party. They need to know what to do if the dishwasher floods my apartment while I am away on a business trip. They need to know to stay off the carpet if my son pours wet paint all over them. How are we ever going to be able to teach all of this stuff to these robots?

Maybe the answer is to give them a lot to read. There are millions of personal stories in Internet weblogs that have a lot of this knowledge in them. There are millions of how-to articles on the web that give step-by-step instructions for a lot of stuff. There are dedicated websites that collect and catalog millions of people’s plans and goals; maybe these can be put to good use. But how?

Natural language understanding is hard work. If we require deep understanding in order to put this text to use, then we’ve simply exchanged one impossible problem for another. Instead, we should be looking for just the right text corpus, and just the right mix of natural language processing necessary to support the reasoning task at hand. If we can figure out exactly what class of reasoning problems we are trying to solve, and how that relates to the structure of the text in a particular corpus, then deep understanding may not be required.

Tucked away deep in the bowels of research labs all across the planet, creative PhD students and junior researchers are working on this problem. They share a common desire to harness natural language processing technologies and the web in order to tackle long-standing artificial intelligence problems. However, they are largely unaware of each other, or even that there is a community of more-senior researchers that care deeply about what they are doing. Now would be a good time to gather all of these people together.

How about a workshop? It would be a great way to bring together junior and senior researchers, where former can share their new ideas and the latter can help foster a healthy research community. Los Angeles is nice, even in the middle of winter. The University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) has a fancy new building that would work perfectly, so we’ve booked the facilities for February 18 and 19. ICT workshops are well organized and always a lot of fun. We’ve secured some funding to ensure that all be well fed and entertained, and that some of the airfare and hotel expenses can be reimbursed. Let’s do it!