Primer: attention, transformers and the new architecture of language

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Natural language is one of the most important challenges in AI and the frontier has moved rapidly over the past few years. This primer will help you get to grips with the basic concepts in a (mostly) non-technical way. If you haven't already read our primer on representing data, you might want to do that first as it explains how AI networks can be used to find patterns in data.

Language is unique. There are many shades of meaning for a given word that only emerge based on its situation in a sentence and its relationship with other words. Meaning happens as language is actually used. The challenge for AI is to capture these relationships mathematically.

Traditional approaches to natural language processing assumes that word meaning is stable across sentences. This is far from the case so researchers are on a quest to invent techniques that are able to include more relevant information about a word.

A technique that has, up until recently been state-of-the-art, is to use an A...

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