language processing, or NLP, is the field that involves getting
systems to understand human languages. A computer with NLP capabilities
would be able to take in data in a language such as Chinese, English,
Hindi, French, Farsi, Russian, Zulu, or Spanish, and it would be
able to respond in the same way.
Natural language processing takes place in almost every science
fiction story that includes robots that talk to humans. Data from
Star Trek, for example, and Hal from 2001: The Space Odyssey use
NLP to communicate with humans. However, NLP is not only the stuff
of fantasy; several applications use some variety of it today. These
include speech transcription programs, grammar checkers in Microsoft
Word, and hotlines that respond to your spoken commands. They also
include SmarterChild and the Babel Fish translator on AltaVista.