Human Language Technology

Making sense of language, thought and reality

Talking with Robots — Weekend of Science 2017

Human Language Technology: A Research Field on the Intersection of Linguistics & Computer Science

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Human Language Technology is a rapidly developing research field. In current Humanities research, a firm background in language technology is extremely valuable for manipulating large datasets.

The Computational Lexicology and Terminology Lab (CLTL) offers a specialization in the research master Humanities in which students are trained in human language technology.

A human language technology expert has knowledge of technology as used in computer applications (e.g. search engines) and of relevant linguistic theories.


Human Language Technology is a track in the two-year Research Master in Linguistics, specialization of the Humanities Research Master at VU Amsterdam.


More details on the: Program, Admission and Application.

MA Program: Course Overview

Human Language Technology Course Overview
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An Example: A Reading Machine

Meet NewsReader, a Reading Machine — example of a Human Language Technology project
A History Recorder, a computer program that ‘reads’ daily streams of news and stores exactly what happened, where and when in the world, and who was involved. The program uses the same strategy as humans by building up a story and merging it with previously stored information.

Something Human is Special?

“Language humans understand so naturally is himalaya, very very difficult, for the machine, for now…”

Lenka Bajčetić about a Human Language Technology robot project (March 2017). Lenka is from Serbia and was exchange student 2016-2017 at VU Amsterdam. Lenka finished the minor Digital Humanities and will become Masterstudent Human Language Technology 2017-2018 at the Computational Lexicology and Terminology Lab (CLTL), at Vrije University Amsterdam.

The Chinese Room Argument

The Chinese Room Argument: John Searle

11:22 The way the argument goes in its simplest version
11:24 is I am locked in a room full of Chinese– well,
11:29 they’re boxes full of Chinese symbols and a rule book
11:32 in English for manipulating the symbols.
11:34 Unknown to me, the boxes are called a database,
11:38 and the rule book is called a program.
11:40 In coming in the room, I get Chinese symbols.
11:44 Unknown to me, those are questions.
11:46 I look up what I’m supposed to do.
11:48 And after I shuffle a lot of symbols,
11:49 I give back other symbols.
11:51 And those are answers to the questions.
11:54 Now we will suppose– I hope your bored
11:56 with this, because I am.
11:57 I mean, I’ve told this story many times.
12:01 We will suppose that they get so good at writing the program,
12:04 I get so good at shuffling the symbols,
12:06 that my answers are indistinguishable
12:08 from a native Chinese speaker.
12:10 I pass the Turing test for understanding Chinese.
12:13 All the same, I don’t understand a word of Chinese.
12:16 And there’s no way in the Chinese room
12:18 that I could come to understand Chinese because all I am
12:23 is a computer system.
12:24 And the rules I operate are a computer program.
12:28 And– and this is the important point–
12:30 the program is purely syntactical.
12:33 It is defined entirely as a set of operations
12:37 over syntactical elements.
12:39 To put it slightly more technically,
12:41 the notion same implemented program
12:43 defines an equivalence class that
12:45 is specified completely independently of any physics
12:48 and, in particular, independent of the physics
12:51 of its realization.
12:53 The bottom line is if I don’t understand
12:56 the questions and the answers on the basis of implementing
13:00 the program, then neither does any other digital computer
13:03 on that basis because no computer
13:06 has anything that I don’t have.
13:09 Computers are purely syntactical devices.
13:13 Their operations are defined syntactically.
13:15 And human intelligence requires more than syntax.
13:19 It requires a semantics.
13:20 It requires an understanding of what’s going on.

The Thinking Machine

The Thinking Machine (Artificial Intelligence in the 1960s)

The Reference Machine

Piek Vossen Sketching Reference Machine

Human Language Technology @ CLTL, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

The two-year Research Master Human Language Technology is a program by CLTL.

CLTL is one of the world’s leading research institutes in Human Language technology. Prof. Dr. Piek Vossen, recipient of the NWO Spinoza Prize, heads the group of international researchers that are working on interdisciplinary projects, including the Spinoza project ‘Understanding Language by Machines’.

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