Essential Pittsburgh
4:01 pm
Thu August 8, 2013

Computational Linguistics: Code Cracking in Our Every Day Lives

We use computational linguistics in devices like iphones and ipads. To machines, language is just a sequence of codes.
We use computational linguistics in devices like iphones and ipads. To machines, language is just a sequence of codes.
Credit Mateus / Flickr

For 18 year old Presidential Scholar Richard “Tom” McCoy, becoming immersed in computational linguistics began at an early age. Beginning with code cracking and summer camps about cryptology, McCoy developed a fascination with the way that foreign language “is kind of like a code or cypher,” he says.

As it turns out, McCoy has a rare talent for deciphering these codes, helping the United States take first place in the 2013 International Linguistics Olympiad. This led to his work developing machine translation programs with Research Professor Lorraine Levin at Carnegie Mellon’s Language Technologies Institute. According to Dr. Levin, the skills of aspiring linguists like McCoy are coveted by employers looking for talent in this increasingly important field. You can find computational linguistics used in internet search engines, voice operated programs like Siri, and automated customer service systems. For McCoy, his time at Carnegie Mellon provided “experience with what linguists do on a day to day basis.”