Words Out of Context are Like Fish out of Water: Both are Dead!

Jerry Zhang
September 21, 2021

Nowadays, if I insist that language must be understood in the right context, most people in NLP would probably agree with me. Digging a little deeper though, you will find that by “context” they really mean “co-text” - text before and/or after the current target you are trying to understand, nicely wrapped in  fancy terms like “window”, “attention”, etc.

That’s NOT at all what I mean by “context”. Context includes the “Environment” out there, the “Stage” in here and the “Focus” right in front of you. Only then, we can start talking about the “Action”. After all, “the meaning of language is not what it says, but what it does!”. Context is to “live in”, not to “collocate with”.  Just for the record, I conjured up a fancy name for this as well: ESFA.

To make it crystal clear, the meaning of language is ONLY in its use. Every use has an ESFA, which minimally includes “who said what to whom, where and when” (thus: I, you, here and now) and these, in turn,  give us other items such as they, there, then, this, that, etc.  In the most general sense, ESFA includes everything said, everything unsaid but should have been said, everything you know and everything the speaker assumes you know, plus everything you know that you don’t know. Understood this way, being alive is being “in context”, only death can take one “out of context”.

I can see your hesitation... Does a system really need all these mouthfuls of things just to understand our language? Wouldn’t that be way too hard to build such a system?

First, some bad news. Yes, you do need all that, just as Carl Sagan said, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

Next, the good news. No, it isn’t too hard to build such a system. Who said we must make it from scratch? We will manage to make apple pies: just by living in the world, our system will get “I, you, here and now”, free of charge.

Finally, the great news. If we are successful in building such a system, we will have created AGI. “Apple pie” is all we need. Now, it’s all worth it, isn’t it? Bon appétit!

Jerry Zhang
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