The Null Device

2003/12/28

Pranksters dress lobster in Barbie outfit; this repeatedly saves its life as amused lobstermen throw it back. (via Charlie's Diary)

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Researchers at MIT are developing software which paraphrases English-language text; for example, their software is able to take the sentence "The surprise bombing injured 20 people, 5 of them seriously," and rewrite it as "Twenty people were wounded in the explosion, among them five in serious condition." The system uses techniques adapted from computational biology to match fragments of sentences to others, skirting the entire area of semantics altogether; online translation systems like Babelfish/Systran use similar techniques. (via Techdirt)

(This is quite distinct from automatic summarisation software, which takes a text and delivers the "gist" of it. Some years ago, a large chunk of various intelligence agencies' research budgets was spent on this area, in an attempt to more easily cope with the flood of signal intelligence. And, unless the CIA and such have such systems in use, chances are it still is.)

Anyway, back to paraphrasing; when I read about this, the first thought that came to me was that it would be very useful to student plagiarists seeking to avoid detection (say, by Google searches on key sentences, or matches against other submitted assignments). Which made me wonder: have any plagiarists ever tried covering their tracks by passing an essay through several passes of Babelfish? (Given some of the grammar I've seen in student essays, I'm sure it wouldn't look too amiss.)

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