If you have recently searched Google for, say, “DNA”, you may notice that it presents you with a text box containing a passage from a reputable website, detailing the basic definition of this gene-containing molecule. How does Google know what you are looking for? And how does it provide this information at light speed? The answer is simple: computers today are better readers than us. They can process massive volumes of data, now in the form of natural human language, in a matter of seconds, while our reading process is slow and often interrupted. The advantage lies in the fact that computers read objectively, and are capable of returning to us specific pieces of information, while our reading as humans is sometimes obscured by our subjective emotions; we remember only what we want to, what we connect with in a certain text. Remarkably, machines today can analyze thousands of medical record, legal scripts, and classical novels and return relevant chunks of information that otherwise would have meant hours of reading for a human. Each of these artificial intelligence units is like a field-specific Google. Thus, given the processing power and efficiency of modern computers, allowing these machines to read for us radically improves contemporary practices in professional fields.
Imagine the times in high school where you dozed off as your teachers called on your classmates to read aloud a section of Hamlet or a U.S. history textbook. Reading in the classroom, as we all have experienced, can be underproductive and leads to a lack of engagement among the majority of the class at any given time. To solve this problem, a computer program called Factotum has been developed to read through entire texts and is able to match up similarities among a multiplex of other written works. Essentially, this program reads the material for you, and then allows you to visualize how a given passage is related to other texts, allowing for a cross-disciplinary and multifarious learning experience. For example, you can see how Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was influenced by the Bible by inputting both texts into Factotum and executing the program. It highlights all similarities between the texts, allowing you, the analyst, to skip reading and go straight into synthesizing the text.
Furthermore, we have all heard the term “modern medicine” but it always seems that visits to the doctor’s office are comprised of the same diagnostic techniques practiced for at least a decade. To more effectively bridge contemporary research with the clinical scene, IBM’s Watson computer’s stellar reading ability is a tool of great magnitude. Watson can “develop patient treatment protocols, personalize patient management for chronic conditions, and intelligently assist doctors and nurses by providing relevant evidence from the worldwide body of medical knowledge,” according to an IBM press release. Capable of instantaneously reading volumes of patient records and medical literature, Watson then finds associations between symptoms and disorders to suggest treatment methods. This saves doctors precious time in aiding patients, particularly in diagnosis, and ultimately leads to well-supported, personalized, and modern patient care.
The processing power of computers is also capable of accelerating the reading of vast amounts of legal documents on the behalf of professors and lawyers. Law is an age-old discipline, and remarkably formal, which implies that many legal texts follow specific formats and structures. These patterns can now be read and analyzed by the natural language processing capabilities of modern computing. Deemed argumentation mining, specialized algorithms are applied to a given legal text, and upon the computer’s reading of it, the type of argument, as well as an outline of its elements can be returned to the user. A recent article by Palau depicts the reading process of the argumentation mining algorithm as one that analyses texts for verb tenses, sentence length, argument patterns, references to supportive information, and the like to inform its user of the essentials of a given case. Thus, lawyers and students alike can utilize these tools to spend less time understanding the arguments of others and invest more time in refuting them.
In the end, as we provide computers with more insight as to how our language works, they will help us to read better, which can have profound benefits in many disciplines. As computers with the capability to read so intelligently becomes ubiquitous, our role should change to accommodate this collaboration. In the future, as artificial intelligence becomes less artificial, there is less need for us to be good readers, rather better analysts.Go Back to Top. Skip To: Start of Article.