Why Language Technology?

Check out our sister company’s new website – Natural Language Careers.  We’ve been active in the Natural Language domain for a number of years, and our intimate knowledge of the sector has led us to develop our presence a little further.  To celebrate, here’s our post exploring the reasons why we’re interested in focussing on what some people would think is largely unheralded and very niche sector.  Enjoy!

We speak to lots of people who seem genuinely surprised that there is a recruiting company dedicated solely to the Natural Language Technology sector. Some people think we’re mad.

We think quite the opposite. We think that the Language Technology domain is the place to be in the next five years. To us, that seems fairly obvious and it’s everyone else who’s made, but we do appreciate that committing ourselves to a small, relatively unheralded corner of the technology industry might be seen as a strange move. So let us try and explain the rationale behind it.

Facts, Figures and a bit of gossip
- The Language Technology market in 2013 was worth $19.3bn. According to LT-Innovate, this will rise to $30bn by the end of 2015 (other predictions vary slightly, but the basic headlines are similar elsewhere – here’s a private research firm predicting 21% growth of the market by 2018)

- According to Indeed, there’s been a 1000% increase in jobs in the Natural Language Processing space since 2006, and a 150% increase in the last 12 months alone. This is despite the overall trend for jobs in the IT space being in decline (there was a 24% decline in the number of advertised tech jobs in 2013 compared to 2012).

- McKinsey predicts that in the US alone, the continued rise in the value of Big Data will fuel a need for around 150,000 analytical and data science-focussed hires. The overwhelming majority of the data fuelling this growth is text-based, and understanding it requires Language Technology.

- Europe’s hottest startup right now is a Language Technology company, according to Wired (who also point out that the UK has a growing tech talent problem, with numbers of students joining tech courses down by 50%)

- The world’s largest tech companies – Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft are all conducting research and development activities in the Language Tech domain. Facebook’s Graph Search – one of their most heralded developments – is a Natural Language product. Apple bought Siri, with its NLP heart, for a rumoured $120m, and placed it at the heart of their device’s UI. Amazon recently acquired Evi, a Siri-like Personal Assistant, and is bringing language technology into their offering.

These are some of the reasons why last 2 years have been really exciting times to be working in the language technology space. This is an industry that has spent a long time being “born” in University research labs, with some commercial successes – primarily in the speech space – giving an early glimpse of what the world would be like if machines were connected to language before mostly disappearing back into academia whilst heads were scratched and brows wiped. Now, several years later, commercial success seems to be happening for those companies taking on the challenge of computerising language.

We believe that the next five years will see a continuation of the recent explosion in the interest surrounding the Language Technology sector. We believe language is one of the final barriers to AI and that recent improvements in computing power, data analysis techniques and theoretical linguistics will combine to build a raft of new companies commercialising language-related technologies.

Here’s some reasons why we think this will happen:

Disruption in the HCI
Our physical relationship with computers is changing. The days of mouse-and-keyboard are numbered. We already spend most of our time working on handheld devices but the coming revolution in wearable technology will push the de facto methods of interacting with technology beyond current limits. Wearable technology can’t be controlled with a keyboard, or a touchscreen. Language is the medium required to power the wearable revolution. Devices that can hear, interpret and understand what you say to them will be king in the next iteration.

Big Data is useless without meaning
“Big Data” is one of the biggest drivers of technology change we’ve seen in the last ten years, and we’re only just beginning to see the effects. As we see a range of tools and technologies emerge to enable the storage and processing of large amounts of data, we’re starting to see where the real challenge lies: meaning.

The vast majority of”data” is text. And text without meaning is useless. Figuring out what all this data actually means is going to be one of the biggest challenges of the language technology domain, and the one that – when overcome – will be the real driver of value from big data.

Socialisation of opinion
In a world where over 500 million tweets are sent every day, opinion is everywhere. The amount of text generated socially on-line is staggering, and a significant chunk of it holds a particular value: opinion. Opinion can be used by brands to understand their performance and their customers, by politicians to understand their electorates, by investors to predict stock behaviour, by governments to predict societal behaviour. Predictive Analytics is such a powerful domain, and interpreting language to define meaning is the central strand sitting at its heart.

The only two things that prevent true globalisation are distance and language. To a large extent, technology has solved the distance issue. Work already transcends continents but the holy grail for any company is to be able to sell products to any location and in any language, using a workforce that is internationally mobile and faultlessly communicative. This requires tools that will translate and interpret for the local market. Translation is a difficult task, even for humans with specialist knowledge, so the challenge of true Machine Translation is a large one, and one that will continue to drive growth within the domain.

The realisation that content is language, and that doing meaningful things with content requires that we give machine the ability to process language is only beginning to hit the mainstream technology world. The next five years will see that realisation give birth to a raft of new innovations, which have the ability to change our relationship with technology beyond recognition. So strap in and jump on….

To find out more about the types of services we offer tech companies in the language space, check out our client pages. For advice, help and to be connected to opportunities, check out our candidate pages. We hope to speak to you soon.

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