The Null Device

Automatic paraphrasing

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.)

There are 6 comments on "Automatic paraphrasing":

Posted by: FFSF Tue Sep 22 08:17:30 2009

The research employed a cross-sectional, non-experimental research design. The independent variable was receipt of a child care subsidy.

Posted by: dawn Tue Jul 27 11:04:50 2010


Posted by: Gel Thu Oct 8 14:51:39 2015


Posted by: Lydia Wed Aug 3 06:27:32 2016

I used a lot of different online paraphrasing tools to just experince how it works but results were always, I don't know, not really great. Ineteresting thought you've hot here. I think it will be useful for some teachers. Plagiarists could also cover their tracks by passing an essay through tools like this: Thank you for this post, it was really inetresing!

Posted by: Jean Fri Aug 19 09:12:47 2016

Nice article, thank you for sharing it!

Posted by: Dawn Wed Sep 28 21:48:36 2016

Hawthorne was fascinated with issues of evil and guilt because his ancestor presided as a judge during the witch hyteria in Salem. However, central to "Young Goodman Brown" is the ambiguity Hawthorne maintains throughout. The story is ambiguous not only concerning whether or not Brown's experience is a dream but is also ambiguous concerning what it says about evil and human nature, and it is the relationship between these that I see as an important theme, and therefore a purpose of the story--to explore in what ways, or if, human nature is inherently evil--and what, in fact, "evil" looks like in our lives. Yes, Brown might be hypocritical; and yes, his neighbors might might engage (symbolically) with evil in the darkness of their lives; but perhaps more importantly the real evil is despair: lacking faith not so much in God but in humanity--accepting that evil might exist but that its presence does not / should not erase the value and joy of life. Or, some might argue that the real evil is the concept of "gui