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Natural-Language Understanding at BBN
January-March 2006 (vol. 28 no. 1)
pp. 46-55
Ralph Weischedel, BBN Technologies
Natural-language understanding has evolved from its earliest days at Bolt Beranek and Newman, in which scientists use an early approach to parsing, to more sophisticated techniques that enable systems to extract information from open-domain text sources to fill data bases automatically.

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19. Rusty Bobrow was a major participant—more about him later.
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22. Later when BBN's speech and natural-language processing groups were joined together Bates was appointed deputy department manager for the natural language part of the combined department.
23. In time Bates Bobrow, and others received a patent relating to this work: L. Bates R. Bobrow Systems and Methods for Providing User Assistance in Retrieving Data From a Relational Database, US patent 6,023,697 Patent and Trademark Office 2000.
24. Rusty had not named his program. It was first called RUS for Render Unto Syntax by Dick Burton who was writing a paper. Burton presumably was thinking of Rusty's penchant for saying "Render unto syntax that which is syntax, and render unto semantics that which is semantics." No doubt Burton also saw the pun on Rusty's name (related during a 26 April 2004 phone conversation with Rusty Bobrow).
25. I joined BBN in 1984 leaving a faculty position at the University of Delaware where among other things I was working to augment ATNs with more semantics (R.M. Weischedel, "A New Semantic Computation While Parsing: Presupposition and Entailment," Syntax and Semantics II: Presupposition, C. Oh and D. Dineen eds. Academic Press 1979 pp. 155-182). I was introduced to BBN by Rusty Bobrow and hired into the AI department by the then department manager Walter Reitman. In short order I was involved in the natural-language understanding group's efforts particularly with regard to DARPA's Strategic Computing Program.
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28. R. Bobrow, P. Resnik, and R. Weischedel, "Multiple Underlying Systems: Translating User Requests Into Programs to Produce Answers," Proc. 28th Ann. Meeting of the Assoc. for Computational Linguistics, Assoc. for Computational Linguistics, 1990, pp. 227-234.
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32. And sponsored by BBN's Science Development Program described by D. Walden, A Culture of Innovation: Insider Accounts of Computing and Life at BBN, D. Walden and R. Nickerson eds. to be published.
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34. Also about this time I became leader of BBN's natural-language R&D group.
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37. Miller provides another example of the benefits of BBN's ongoing connections with universities. For example, John Makhoul has, as an adjunct professor at Northeastern University, set up a path that made it relatively easy to provide research funding to graduate students at Northeastern. One such student, Scott Miller, was interested in applying statistical learning to natural-language understanding, and I provided initial research funding for him to do work in this area. He wrote his PhD thesis on statistical language models for spoken dialogue interfaces under John Makhoul and Rich Schwartz, then rejoined the research on text understanding as an employee.
38. An earlier draft of this article covered continuing innovative work done in the late 1990s and in the current decade. That work, not yet historical enough, was elided from this article.

Index Terms:
natural language processing, question answering, semantic, networks, parsing, knowledge representation
Ralph Weischedel, "Natural-Language Understanding at BBN," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 46-55, Jan.-March 2006, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2006.17
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