Throughout most of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, computational linguistics
enjoyed an excellent reputation. A sense of the promise of the work to society
was prevalent, and high expectations were justified by solid, steady progress in
Nevertheless, by the close of the 1980s, many people openly expressed doubt
about progress in the field. Are the problems of human language too hard to be
solved even in the next eighty years? What measure(s) (other than the number of
papers published) show significant progress in the last ten years? Where is the
technology successfully deployed in the military, with revolutionary impact? In
what directions should the field move, to ensure progress and avoid stagnation?
Though natural language processing has come far in the past twenty years, the technology has not achieved a major impact on society. Is this because of some fundamental limitation that cannot be overcome? Or because there has not been enough time to refine and apply theoretical work already done? Editors Madeleine Bates and Ralph Weischedel believe it is neither; they feel that several critical issues have never been adequately addressed in either theoretical or applied work, and they have invited capable researchers in the field to do that in Challenges in Natural Language Processing.