Sense and sensibility: Idilia’s software, which chooses the most appropriate meaning of words, could be used to enhance technologies like search engines, as shown on the right.
Colledge notes that part of what makes word-sense disambiguation difficult is that people are impatient with poor results from computers. “You’re trying to solve a problem that a human being can solve really, really easily,” he says. Because of that, inaccuracies stand out. Colledge says a person who wants to stump software like Idilia’s can certainly do so. But he claims that for well-written text with a lot of context and good grammar, the software can achieve up to 85 percent accuracy.
Accuracy of 85 to 90 percent is at the top end of what’s possible today, says Collin Baker, project manager for FrameNet, a project of the International Computer Science Institute at the University of California, Berkeley. Baker notes, however, that it’s important to see how finely software distinguishes word sense. For example, is it simply going for broad distinctions such as the difference between “bank” as in a financial institution and as in a river bank? Or can it make finer distinctions such as the bank of a highway versus the bank of a river?
In either case, the software could be quite useful, Baker adds. “There’s good evidence that we don’t need the finest distinctions in every application,” he says. In search, for example, even coarse distinctions could result in great improvements.
Yves Normandin, CEO of the speech-recognition technology company Nu Echo, who is on Idilia’s advisory board, says Idilia’s technology could lead to significant improvements in all of the markets the company is targeting. It “goes to the heart of the problems that those applications have,” Normandin says.