Natural language user interface

Natural language user interface

Natural Language User Interfaces (LUI) are a type of computer human interface where linguistic phenomena such as verbs, phrases and clauses act as UI controls for creating, selecting and modifying data in software applications.

In interface design natural language interfaces are sought after for their speed and ease of use, but most suffer the challenges to understanding wide varieties of ambiguous input.[1] Natural language interfaces are an active area of study in the field of natural language processing and Computational linguistics. An intuitive general Natural language interface is one of the active goals of the Semantic Web.

It is important to note that text interfaces are 'natural' to varying degrees, and that many formal (un-natural) programming languages incorporate idioms of natural human language. Likewise, a traditional keyword search engine could be described as a 'shallow' Natural language user interface.



A natural language search engine would in theory find targeted answers to user questions (as opposed to keyword search). For example, when confronted with a question of the form 'which U.S. state has the highest income tax?', conventional search engines ignore the question and instead do a search on the keywords 'state, income and tax'. Natural language search, on the other hand, attempts to use natural language processing to understand the nature of the question and then to search and return a subset of the web that contains the answer to the question. If it works, results would have a higher relevance than results from a keyword search engine.

From a commercial standpoint, advertising on the results page could also be more relevant and could have a higher revenue potential than that of keyword search engines.[citation needed]


Prototype Nl interfaces had already appeared in the late sixties and early seventies.[2]

  • Lunar, a natural language interface to a database containing chemical analyses of Apollo-11 moon rocks by William A. Woods.
  • Chat-80 transformed English questions into Prolog expressions, which were evaluated against the Prolog database. The code of Chat-80 was circulated widely, and formed the basis of several other experimental Nl interfaces.
  • Janus is also one of the few systems to support temporal questions.
  • Intellect from Trinzic (formed by the merger of AICorp and Aion).
  • Bbn’s Parlance built on experience from the development of the Rus and Irus systems.
  • IBM Languageaccess
  • Q&A from Symantec.
  • Datatalker from Natural Language Inc.
  • Loqui from Bim.
  • English Wizard from Linguistic Technology Corporation.



Ubiquity, an add-on for Mozilla Firefox, is a collection of quick and easy natural-language-derived commands that act as mashups of web services, thus allowing users to get information and relate it to current and other webpages.

Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram Alpha is an online service that answers factual queries directly by computing the answer from structured data, rather than providing a list of documents or web pages that might contain the answer as a search engine would.[3] It was announced in March 2009 by Stephen Wolfram, and was released to the public on May 15, 2009.[4]


Siri is a personal assistant application for the iPhone OS. The application uses natural language processing to answer questions and make recommendations. The iPhone app is the first public product by its makers, who are focused on artificial intelligence applications.

Siri's marketing claims include that Siri adapts to the user's individual preferences over time and personalizes results, as well as accomplishing tasks such as making dinner reservations while trying to catch a cab.[5]


  • Anboto Group - Anboto provides Web Customer Service and e-Commerce technology based on Semantics and Natural Language Processing. The main offer of Anboto are the Virtual Sales Agent and Intelligent Chat.
  • Q-go - The Q-go technology provides relevant answers to users in response to queries on a company’s internet website or corporate intranet, formulated in natural sentences or keyword input alike. Q-go was acquired by RightNow Technologies in 2011
  • - The original idea behind Ask Jeeves ( was to allow users to get answers to questions posed in everyday, natural language, as well as traditional keyword searching. The current still supports this, with added support for math, dictionary, and conversion questions.
  • C-Phrase - C-Phrase is a web-based natural language front end to relational databases. C-Phrase runs under LINUX, connects with PostgreSQL databases via ODBC and supports both select queries as well as updates. Currently there is only support for English. C-Phrase is hosted on Google Code site.
  • GNOME Do - Allows for quick finding miscellaneous artifacts of GNOME environment (applications, Evolution and Pidgin contacts, Firefox bookmarks, Rhythmbox artists and albums, and so on) and execute the basic actions on them (launch, open, email, chat, play, etc.).[6]
  • Brainboost — No longer available
  • Braina Project - Braina is a natural language user interface software which is currently under developmental stage. It is being developed by a single programmer named Akash Shastri. The main goal of this project is to make computer understand the human language so that a user can control a computer without use of any commands.
  • hakia - hakia is an Internet search engine. The company has invented an alternative new infrastructure to indexing that uses SemanticRank algorithm, a solution mix from the disciplines of ontological semantics, fuzzy logic, computational linguistics, and mathematics.
  • Lexxe - Lexxe is an Internet search engine that uses natural language processing for queries (semantic search). Searches can be made with questions, such as "How old is Wikipedia?", as well as keywords and phrases. When it comes to facts, Lexxe is quite effective, though needs much improvement in natural language analysis in the area of facts and in other areas.
  • Pikimal - Pikimal uses natural language tied to user preference to make search recommendations by template.
  • Powerset — On May 11, 2008, the company unveiled a tool for searching a fixed subset of Wikipedia using conversational phrases rather than keywords.[7] On July 1, 2008, it was purchased by Microsoft.[8]
  • START (MIT project) - START, Web-based question answering system. Unlike information retrieval systems such as search engines, START aims to supply users with "just the right information," instead of merely providing a list of hits. Currently, the system can answer millions of English questions about places, movies, people and dictionary definitions.
  • Swingly - Swingly is an answer engine designed to find exact answers to factual questions. Just ask a question in plain English - and Swingly will find you the answer (or answers) you're looking for (according to their site).
  • Yebol - Yebol is a vertical "decision" search engine that had developed a knowledge-based, semantic search platform. Yebol's artificial intelligence human intelligence-infused algorithms automatically cluster and categorize search results, web sites, pages and contents that it presents in a visually indexed format that is more aligned with initial human intent. Yebol uses association, ranking and clustering algorithms to analyze related keywords or web pages. Yebol integrates natural language processing, metasynthetic-engineered open complex systems, and machine algorithms with human knowledge for each query to establish a web directory that actually 'learns,' using correlation, clustering and classification algorithms to automatically generate the knowledge query, which is retained and regenerated forward.[9]
  • Inbenta - Inbenta's Search Engine is a multilingual, scalable, linguistic, and semantic-based search engine for the enterprise. It is based on the latest developments of the Meaning-Text Theory and provides intuitive search experiences using natural language.
  • Mnemoo - Mnemoo is an answer engine that aimed to directly answer questions posed in plain text (Natural Language), which is accomplished using a database of facts and an inference engine.


Natural language interfaces have in the past led users to anthropomorphize the computer, or at least to attribute more intelligence than is warranted to it. This leads to unrealistic expectations of the capabilities of the system on the part of the user. Such expectations will make it difficult to learn the restrictions of the system if they attribute too much capability to it, and they will lead to disappointment when the system fails to perform as expected.

A 1995 paper titled 'Natural Language Interfaces to Databases – An Introduction', describes some challenges:[2]

  • Modifier attachment

The request “List all employees in the company with a driving licence” is ambiguous unless you know companies can't have drivers licences.

  • Conjunction and disjunction

“List all applicants who live in California and Arizona.” is ambiguous unless you know that a person can't live in two places at once.

  • Anaphora resolution

- resolve what a user means by 'he', 'she' or 'it', in a self-referential query.

See also


  1. ^ Hill, I. (1983). "Natural language versus computer language." In M. Sime and M. Coombs (Eds.) Designing for Human-Computer Communication. Academic Press.
  2. ^ a b Natural Language Interfaces to Databases – An Introduction, I. Androutsopoulos, G.D. Ritchie, P. Thanisch, Department of Artificial Intelligence, University of Edinburgh
  3. ^ Johnson, Bobbie (2009-03-09). "British search engine 'could rival Google'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-03-09. 
  4. ^ "So Much for A Quiet Launch". Wolfram Alpha Blog. 2009-05-08. Retrieved 2009-10-20. 
  5. ^ Siri webpage
  6. ^ Ubuntu 10.04 Add/Remove Applications description for GNOME Do
  7. ^ Helft, Miguel (May 12, 2008). "Powerset Debuts With Search of Wikipedia". The New York Times. 
  8. ^ Johnson, Mark (July 1, 2008). "Microsoft to Acquire Powerset". Powerset Blog. Archived from the original on February 25, 2009. 
  9. ^ Humphries, Matthew. " steps into the search market" 31 July 2009.

External links

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