Word-sense disambiguation

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Word sense disambiguation is important in machine translation between less-closely related languages. The problem was elucidated most famously by Yehoshua Bar-Hillel, who asks us to consider the following sentence:

Little John was looking for his toy box. Finally he found it. The box was in the pen.

The word pen may have two meanings:

  1. Something you use to write with
  2. A container of some kind

To a human, the meaning is obvious, but Bar-Hillel claimed that without a "universal encyclopaedia" a machine would never be able to deal with this problem. Figuring out which sense to use when a word is ambiguous is called word sense disambiguation, and is a big research area.

Further reading