Eugene Charniak is interested in programming computers to understand language so that they will be able to perform such tasks as answering questions and holding a conversation. Prof. Charniak and his students write programs that collect statistical information about language from large amounts of text then apply the statistics to new examples.
Other recent work uses statistics that relate the probability of a particular referent based upon a variety of factors: how far back it is in the text, the typical gender of the antecedent phrase, etc. His motivation is primarily theoretical, but there are also many applications for this research, including automatic language translation, computer telephone operators, and web search engines that answer questions.
Professor Charniak became interested in computers late in his education as a physics undergraduate at the University of Chicago. He spent the summer between his junior and senior years programming a computer at Argonne National Laboratory for a high-energy physics experiment. During his senior year he started to read more about computer science. Having originally applied to graduate school in physics, he switched his focus and went to M.I.T. to study computer science, where he received his doctorate.
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