Wednesday, November 22, 2006

By language, it's her fault...

By language, it’s her fault…

Looking at this Swiss news headline in the picture, which roughly translates into English as “She let them rape her”, the rape situation is framed as if the alleged victim had caused the criminals to commit the crime. That’s not much different than say that “almost naked women deserve to be raped since they are all ‘exposed meat’” as recently stated by a Muslim leader in a public speech in Australia.

Use of language to frame situations and concepts in different (and often opposite ways) is currently used in political discourse as pointed out by George Lakoff throughout his work on metaphor and in particular in two of his books, namely “Moral Politics: how liberals and conservative think ” and “Don’t think of an elephant ”.

Language can be used as a weapon that kills freedom much as terrorism. I believe that people need to better understand language and this is only possible through education. Education does not always equate to schools. By education I basically mean awareness and access to information. Since there is no unique way of “framing” information, so the solution would be to access to multiple (inevitably subjective) views to the same information. Moreover it is necessary to understand how language constructions in different languages already provide a frame of reference that is unconsciously rooted in speakers of a specific language. The solution to this problem would be learning different language and share cultural values across national boundaries. A condition for doing so is of course the elimination of physical borders and providing free access to information.

Since most of people are lazy enough to learn foreign language, automatic translation might help. The problem is, however, that machine translation systems do not currently embody knowledge about different framing of the same situation in different languages. In other words, if we translate the above headline from French into Italian we get a truly different connotation of the fact: “Si è fatta violentare”. Of course, common sense resolves here the misinterpretation. But what about a direct French to Arabic translation where the wrongly depicted situation would have a legal status? Isn’t this misinformation?

One way to (technologically) address the problem is to build better translation dictionaries where constructions (multiword expressions) are correctly translated. Moreover, these constructions should be considered in the context in which they appear in order to be linked to the right corresponding construction in the target language.

A major effort toward this direction is undergoing within the FrameNet project at the International Computer Science Institute, Berkeley . This project is leaded by Prof. Charles Fillmore and is part of a larger initiative supported by the University of California at Berkeley on Cognitive Linguistics .

Another relevant work towardsreliable automatic translation is that of Violeta Seretan on Collocations . Collocations are groups of words that tend to go together in language. Usually collocations are translated differently across languages, especially when language stem from different roots (e.g. Latin, Germanic, Semitic, Asiatic). Words are not isolated entities in language. Rather they are as molecules with different valences. They have tendencies to bind with other words (molecules) according to a given context (the solution). That’s why is important to take words together and study their interconnections. It is not just a matter of syntactic well-formedness. It is more about conventions, cultural biases and historical development.

Language is a complex phenomenon that deserves more (scientific) investigation. Unfortunately it is not always the case since many projects in human language technology focus more on practical solutions for limited scope problems. Naïve machine translation (such as that you can experience through Google) works 60-70% of the time and it does not take into account the language subtleties such as that we have discussed so far.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Smoke-abused Kids

Look at this picture:

What's wrong with it? Nothing special, apparently.

Law permits smoking in open spaces even in presence of children. As you can see, the smoking mother doesn't seem to care about her little girl's passive smoking. After all, smoke kills only smokers (the label says on the cigarette brand advertisement behind the seat), not the people around smokers who are forced to breathe the residual smoke they produce (maybe the most dangerous). In this situation, children are more defenseless than adults since they are stuck with their parents and cannot choose to leave the smoking area.

Once before this snapshot, I was waiting at the bus station in Rome and a mother sitting next to me begun smoking just in face of her little kid. I asked her if she was aware of the dangers of passive smoke for children. She angrily replied by saying that she perfectly knew how to take care of her kid and impolitely recommended me to mind my own business.

I guess that I would have received the same treatment if I had informed the lady in the picture about the same issue. So I decided to adopt a new strategy: SmartMobbing! SmartMobs has been recently used to expose misbehaving people on the Internet such as the Dog-poop Girl and the Amir's broken laptop sold on eBay (maybe the latter was an exaggerated reaction).

I hope that this picture will trigger some reflection about the danger of passive smoke for children (and people in general) and I encourage to circulate it on the web.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Multimodal interfaces Course

A very nice course in Multimodal Interfaces has been given this year (2006) at the Computer Science Department of the University of Fribourg . Videos of students projects are available here .


Saturday, June 17, 2006

WORKSHOP - DART '06 The Future of Search Engines' Technologies

I will participate as a speaker to the DART'06 conference. I will present a paper on my recent work carried out at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland together with my colleagues Amos Brocco, Dominique Guinard, Pascal Bruegger and Pedro De Almeida. A pre-print of the paper is available here .


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Me Like Turing: from infinite ribbons to infinite windows!

I am not so selfish to compare to Alan Turing , the inventor of modern computers. I have just discovered that "infinite ribbons" in Turing Machines have become obsolete.

This is something that never happened to me and I don't know how to deal with this new Windows bug (maybe it is new just for me; suggestions are welcome!).

As you can check from this screenshot:

There is a window with no right-side borders. No matter how much you drag the window on the left, the right side remains open-ended. This type of window appears when I select "properties" from the print dialog box, no matter of the application from which I am printing and the selected printer. This happened after I installed Adobe Acrobat Standard and after few automatic updates. I don't know if the two things are related, but printing from Acrobat or other applications make no difference and the "infinite window" always shows up. If you select one of the two tabs, the print monitor application crashes and sometimes also the Windows Explorer.

Needless to say that anyone I asked about it have no idea of what's going on. Moreover, my system is perfectly clean and no viruses are swarming around.

So what? Well, I think that we are in presence of an instance of the Vic_Peacock's Machine, which I proudly discovered! It is composed of a crappy operating system and at least one Infinite Window. It runs exponentially slow and makes exponential use of resources (whatever they might be). Its theoretical importance lies on the fact that it is difficult (or almost impossible) to debug and that the only programs that run well are viruses, troyan horses and spywares.

My overall life is degrading because of this machine and I am tempted to do what Turing did to end all this. Turing had two choices on how to suicide: eat a poisoned Apple or jump through a Window. He foresaw that he might have jumped through an "infinite window", hence never die and thus risking of being trapped in Windows for the eternity. He wisely chose a poisoned Apple that gave him a smooth, delicate and painless die!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

My first experience with

Hi people!

I am writing this blog using the on-line word processor This new way of using productivity tool might change the world of office automation. Well, that's what is claimed by many experts who believe that using a tool as a "web service" will support the user in working "anywhere, anytime, ...anyhow"!

Is it a real revolution? That's my question. Are we moving back to Mainframes computers with centralized computing and dumb terminals? Is it a web browser a sort of "dumb terminal" (not so dumb, anyway...)?

I remember when IBM's terminal were form oriented (i.e. you had to locally fill a form on a "block" terminal and then submit it to the main computer). Then there was the revolution: the so-called interactive applications! Still dumb terminals, but the communication between the terminal and the mainframe was no more "block-based" but "character-based". This entailed more interactivity since the computer could control the user's input field by field while filling the forms. That was the last frontier in computing before the advent of networked Personal Computers and the Client-Server architecture, more or less mid-80s.

Now the Web. Web stemmed out of the "gopher" protocol used to navigate remote filesystems on the internet. Within about 20 years we see an evolution which is comparable to that of moving from Mainframes to PC, but in reverse order. Networked PCs needed to share information on the internet but they still wanted a certain degree of autonomy. This because internet connections were costly and not reliable. Moreover, the failure of one single remote information repository could be disastrous from the user perspective. Users were used to make their own backups and they typically had a limited (computing) mobility.

Now the scenario is almost reversed. Users move a lot with their small computing devices and they can more and more rely on stable and cheap internet connection. For this reason it does make sense of putting back information in a single remote place where information can be accessed from everywhere, with any device, without the burden of taking care of data integrity.

This dramatically improves mobility and also reduces the cost of (and the weight) of the mobile devices. No need of heavy large hard disks in your mobile PC. You only need a computer that is able to run a browser. That's all.

While Microsoft still continues to propose powerfull, although "ultra-portable", computers (i.e. Origami), Nokia is proposing the real alternative for mobile computing. Something better than a PocketPC, but less powerfull than a TabletPC, while preserving the needed power to run a full web browser: the Nokia 770.

This will really change the world of computing!! That's my opinion. That's the gadget I was waiting for a long time.

If SUN first launched the slogan "the Network is the Computer", Nokia should say that its 770 is its terminal.

Maybe, in a similar fashion, Apple could re-launch its fantastic Newton with a new "allure". What about a New-ton as a smart internet terminal, with all the Apple's design features, like an iPod inside (or even "pluggable"!)?

Now back to Writely. I am about to publish this blog and I will use the Blog feature in the main menu. I did not talk about Writely actually. But I have to admit that I almost feel no difference between a "true" word processor and this Ajax application.

More on that later. Stay tunned!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

I'm a PC, I'm a Mac.

Nice Ads are showing today at Apple's web site! The subject is always the same: the never-ending battle between PCs and Macs (by the way, isn't a Mac a Personal Computer?)

The ads are very funny, but I believe that the message sent by Apple is not fair: although the difference is about software, Apple sells it as it was about hardware.

Being an Apple fan, I don't understand why Apple needs to show this type of ads to convince people to switch from Windows to Mac OS-X. That's the point: what makes Apple different is not the just the hardware, but the Operating System!

The ads are about Mac vs PC, not about Windows vs Mac OS-X. For this issue, the same arguments (maybe with the exception of the iLife suite) applies to Linux and Solaris, which are, by the way, free!

So what? Well, I think that Apple should change its strategy in promoting Mac OS-X, which is in my opinion the main factor which might convince people to adopt Apple products. Since the hardware barrier has now been removed (i.e. Mac OS-X on Intel processors), it would be a great move if Apple will sell Mac OS-X as a standalone, possibly multi-platform, Operating System (like Linux or Solaris).

Apple hardware should be chosen not only for its capability of supporting Mac OS-X, but for its intrinsic features, including performance, design, reliability, etc. In my humble opinion, it is not fair to be forced by a great company such as Apple to buy its hardware just to benefit from the OS bundled with it, especially now that Mac OS-X is working on Intel processors.

People that like Apple computers would probably buy them independently of its installed OS. Many people would buy Apple computers if they could easily install Windows. Separating the marketing of the OS from that of the hardware would be beneficial from both the user and the company. Apple would benefit of a wider spread of its fantastic OS and attract more customers even from Windows and Linux world, while users would have more choice which is, after all, their ultimate concern!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Microsoft Origami's first European preview!


Wednesday April 26th one of the twos Origami available in Europe has been demonstrated at the Microsoft academic convention (Journées Academiques 2006) in Paris.

Here is a picture of the new Ultra-Mobile Tablet PC.

It is manufactured by Samsung and it is expected to be sold at affordable prices (below 1000 euros). It comes with a rubber cover which integrates a wireless keyboard. The touch screen can be used either with a stylo or with fingers. The battery lasts about 8 hours.

All the TabletPC software runs without problems.

This device targets the primarily the education market.

More to come! Stay tunned! Posted by Picasa

Friday, April 14, 2006

Google dashboard widgets...

I found these nice dashboard Google widgets..

The Blogger widget allows me to post blogs very easily!! 

So, I'll write more in the next days...