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Natural 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.