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From Understanding Language to Understanding Us
Eduard Hovy

Computers don’t understand you; you have to understand the computer. How easy it would be if you could just speak to a computer in natural human language and it would understand you?

Whenever you use language to interact with a computer – like simple word processing or Google search - it is always a pain to get a computer to do exactly want you want. The reason is simple: computers don’t understand you; you have to understand the computer. How easy it would be if you could just speak to a computer in natural human language and it would understand you? Although the idea is easy to imagine, it is extremely difficult to realize: human language, and the thoughts behind them, have many complexities. Some basic systems are already in use in healthcare and espionage; recently, an IBM supercomputer even won the TV show Jeopardy “Guess the question” over human players, a victory for computers dwarfing the fact computers can beat the best human chess players! If computers really learn to understand human language, how close are they to understanding humans themselves? And if computers really understand humans, which differences remain between them and us? 

Eduard Hovy is a member of the Language Technology Institute in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. He holds adjunct professorships at universities in China, Korea, and Canada, and is co-Director of Research for the DHS Center for Command, Control, and Interoperability Data Analytics. He used to direct the Human Language Technology Group at the Information Sciences Institute of the University of Southern California. Dr. Hovy completed a Ph.D. in Computer Science (Artificial Intelligence) at Yale University in 1987. His research addresses areas in Natural Language Processing, including machine reading of text, question answering, information extraction, automated text summarization, the semi-automated construction of large lexicons and ontologies, and machine translation. Dr. Hovy is the author or co-editor of six books and over 300 technical articles and is a popular invited speaker. In 2001 Dr. Hovy served as President of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL) and in 200103 as President of the International Association of Machine Translation (IAMT). Dr. Hovy regularly co-teaches courses and serves on Advisory Boards for institutes and funding organizations in Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and the USA.

Hendrik de Waard Foundation
Eduard Hovy comes all the way from the USA to Groningen to present the Hendrik de Waard Lecture 2013! This lecture is organised by the Hendrik de Waard Foundation in cooperation with Studium Generale Groningen. The Hendrik de Waard Foundation was founded after the retirement of the late professor of physics Hendrik de Waard in 1987.  Annually, the foundation organises a lecture to inform and intrigue the general public about recent developments in science. For more information, go to or email to

Interesting links
Website Eduard Hovy
Website Hendrik de Waard Foundation

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