What is natural language generation?

by Stephen M. Walker II, Co-Founder / CEO

What is natural language generation?

Natural Language Generation (NLG) is a subfield of artificial intelligence that transforms structured and unstructured data into natural written or spoken language. It's a software process that enables computers to communicate with users in a human-like manner, enhancing the interactions between humans and machines.

NLG can work in a few different ways, but the most common methods are extractive and abstractive. The extractive approach takes a large body of text, extracts sentences that represent key points, and combines them in a grammatically accurate way to generate a summary of the larger text. The abstractive approach, on the other hand, creates novel text by identifying key concepts and then generating new sentences.

The typical stages of natural-language generation include content determination, sentence planning, and text realization. In content determination, the system decides what information to include in the output. Sentence planning involves organizing the content into a coherent structure, and text realization is the process of converting this structure into natural language.

NLG is related to other fields such as computational linguistics, natural language processing (NLP), and natural language understanding (NLU). NLU allows a computer to understand the meaning of the user's input, and NLG provides the text or speech response in a way the user can understand.

NLG has a wide range of applications. It's used in chatbots, voice assistants, and AI blog writers, among others. It can turn numbers into narratives based on pre-set templates, predict which words need to be generated next, or formulate entire summaries, articles, or responses. Other common uses include creating automated customer service responses, filling out online forms, and generating reports.

How does natural language generation work?

Natural Language Generation (NLG) is a subfield of artificial intelligence (AI) that focuses on producing natural written or spoken language from a machine. It's a multi-step process that involves understanding and analyzing data, deciding what information to include, structuring the document, aggregating sentences, ensuring grammatical correctness, and presenting the language in a comprehensible manner.

There are two main approaches to NLG: extractive and abstractive. The extractive approach pulls out sentences from a large body of text that are most representative of key points and combines them to generate a summary. On the other hand, the abstractive approach creates novel text by identifying key concepts and then generating new sentences.

The typical stages of NLG, as proposed by Dale and Reiter, include:

  1. Content determination: Deciding what information to mention in the text.
  2. Document structuring: Organizing the selected information into a coherent structure.
  3. Aggregation: Combining individual pieces of information into sentences.
  4. Lexicalization: Choosing the specific words to express the information.
  5. Referring expression generation: Deciding how to refer to entities (e.g., "the cat" vs. "it").
  6. Realization: Ensuring the text is grammatically correct.

NLG has a wide range of applications, including analytics reporting, content automation, virtual assistants, chatbots, and finance & banking. However, it's important to note that while NLG can significantly increase efficiency and generate ROI, it's best to use it in a targeted way to ensure effectiveness.

Despite the advancements in NLG, there are still challenges to overcome. For instance, the maintenance of NLG systems can be complex as they evolve over time and need to handle a wide range of scenarios and edge cases. Additionally, the quality of the generated text can vary, and users must exert effort to read and process the generated narrative to determine if it contains valuable insights.

In the future, we can expect further advancements in NLG, especially in the area of abstractive summarization, which holds promise for producing summaries that align more closely with how humans would write them. As a techno-optimist, it's exciting to consider the potential of NLG in transforming how we interact with machines and process information.

What are the benefits of using natural language generation?

There are many benefits of using natural language generation (NLG) in artificial intelligence (AI). NLG can help create more realistic and believable dialogue for characters in video games and movies. It can also be used to generate text from data, which can be used to create reports or summaries. NLG can also help improve the accuracy of voice recognition systems.

What are some common applications of natural language generation?

Natural language generation (NLG) in artificial intelligence (AI) has a wide array of applications. It is instrumental in automating the creation of reports from structured data, such as financial performance analysis. NLG systems can also craft detailed descriptions from visual inputs like images or video scenes. They are adept at formulating step-by-step instructions for various tasks, ranging from toy assembly to recipe preparation. Additionally, NLG can generate relevant questions for educational or informational purposes across various subjects. Lastly, it is capable of summarizing extensive text documents, distilling news articles, and academic papers into concise overviews.

What are some challenges associated with natural language generation?

One of the key challenges associated with natural language generation in AI is the ability to accurately capture the meaning of the source content. This is often referred to as the "semantic gap" and can be difficult to overcome. Additionally, another challenge is the ability to generate language that is both natural and fluent. This can be a difficult task for AI systems, as they often struggle with understanding the nuances of human language.

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