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Natural Language Generation: Top Things You Need to Know

Last updated:
30th Jan, 2018
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Natural Language Generation: Top Things You Need to Know

From a linguistic point of view, language was created for the survival of human beings. The effective communication helped a primitive man to hunt, gather and survive in groups. This means a language is necessary to carry out all activities needed for not only survival but also a meaningful existence of human beings. As humans evolved so did their literary skills. From pictorial scripts to well developed universal ones, we have made an impressive progress. In fact, such remarkable progress that a machine developed by humans now can read data, write text and not in a machine, binary language but a real, conversational language. Natural Language Generation has made this possible.

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What is Natural Language Generation?

Natural language is an offshoot of Artificial Intelligence. It is a tool to automatically analyse data, interpret it, identify the important information and narrow it down to a simple text, to make decision making in business easier, faster and of course, cheaper. It crunches numbers and drafts a narrative for you.

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What are the different variations of Natural Language Generation?

  1. Basic Natural Language Generation:

    The basic form of NLG converts data into text through Excel-like functions. For example, a mail merge that restates numbers into a language.

  2. Templated Natural Language Generation:

    In this type of NGL tool, a user takes the call on designing content templates and interpreting the output. Templated systems are restricted in their capability to scan multiple data sources, perform advanced analytics.

  3. Advanced Natural Language Generation:

    It is the ‘smartest’ way of analysing data. It processes the data right from the beginning and separates it based on its significance for a particular audience, and then writes the narrative with relevant information in a conversational tone. For example, if a data analyst wants to know how a particular product is doing in a market, an advanced NLG tool would write a report by segregating the data of only the required product.

Do we really need natural language generation?

A number of devices are connected to the internet creating a huge Internet of Things. All these devices are creating data at a lightning speed leading to Big Data generation. It is almost humanly impossible to analyse, interpret and draw rational interference from this enormous data. Along with data analysis and accurate interpretation the need for the optimum use of resources, cost cutting and time management are the essentials for a modern business to survive, grow and flourish. Natural Language Generation helps up to effectively achieve all these goals in one go.

Additionally, when a machine can do these routine tasks, and accurately. So, valuable human resources can indulge themselves in the activities that require innovation, creativity and problem-solving.

Will Natural Language Generation kill jobs?

First of all, not all kinds of narratives can be written by Natural Language Generation tools. It is only for creating a text based on data. Creative writing, engaging content is developed not only by analytical skills but with the help of major emotional involvement. The passion of an individual, their skills, their ability to cater complex terms in simpler formats can’t be replaced. Additionally, to rationalise the text created by Natural Language Generation tools, human intervention is critical.
Natural Language Generation only augments the job and enriches the life of employees by freeing them from menial jobs. Alain Kaeser, founder of Yseop has rightly acknowledged that-

“The next industrial revolution will be the artificial intelligence revolution and the automation of knowledge work and repetitive tasks to enhance human capacity”.

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Why should you get a hang of Natural Language Generation?

A research commissioned by Forrester Research anticipated a 300% increase in investment in artificial intelligence in 2017 compared to 2016. The Artificial Intelligence market will grow from $8 billion in 2016 to more than $47 billion in 2020. Based on this report, Forbes magazine has come up with a list of the ‘hottest ten Artificial Intelligence technologies’ that will rule the market in the near future. Natural Language Generation is one of them and it is set to see a huge boost.

Examples and Applications of Natural Language Generation

Natural Language Generation techniques are put to use across various industries as per their requirements. Healthcare-Pharma, Banking services, Digital marketing… it’s everywhere!
From fund reporting in finance and campaign analytics reporting in marketing to personalised client alerts for preparing dashboards in sales and customer service maintenance, it is used to generate effective results for all departments in an organisation. Let’s have a quick look at how NLG has varied applications in various departments:

  • Marketing – Two main responsibilities of a marketing department are designing market strategy and conducting market research. Both of these activities heavily depend on data analysis, and in today’s world of big data, it is becoming increasingly complex. Natural Language Generation tools can help you scan big data, analyse it and write reports for you within a few hours.
  • Sales – A sales analysis report indicates the trends in a company’s sales volume over a period of time. A sales analysis report throws light on the factors that affects sales, like season, competitors strategy, advertising efforts etc. Managers use sales analysis reports to recognise market opportunities and areas where they could increase volume. These reports are purely based on humongous data. Natural Language Generation programs save your time and efforts of manually scanning data, finding trends and writing reports. Once you feed the inputs, it takes care of all of these activities.
  • Banking and finance – May it be a finance department of an organisation or an investment bank, financial reports stating the financial health of a company needs to be written and sent out to shareholders, investors, rating agencies, government agencies etc. The general financial statements like balance sheets, Statement of cash flows, Income statement etc. are loaded with numbers and a reader likes to have a quick understanding of these statements. Natural Language Generation software scans through these statements and presents this information in a simple, text format rather than complicated accounting one.
  • Healthcare and medicine – Recently Natural Language Generation tools are being used to summarise e-medical records. Additional research in this area is opening doors to prudent medical decision-making for medical professionals. It is also being used in communicating with patients, as a part of patient awareness programs in India, as per the NCBI report. The data collected through medical research like what kind of lifestyle diseases are most dreadful or what kinds of habits are healthy can be summarized in a simple language for patients which is extremely useful for the doctors to make a case for their advice.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The applications of NLG tools are widespread already and are ready to take off to greater heights in the future.  

Techniques of natural language generation – How to get started

A refined Natural Language Generation system needs to inject some aspects of planning and amalgamation of information to enable the NLG tools to generate the text which appears natural and interesting. The general stages of natural language generation, as proposed by Dale and Reiter in their book ‘Building Natural Language Generation Systems’ are:

  1. Content determination:

    In this stage, a data analyst must decide what kind of information to present by using their discretion with respect to relevance. For example, deciding what kind of information a share trader would want to know vs what kind of information a dealer in the commodity market would want to know.

  2. Document structuring:

    In this stage, a user will have to decide the sequence, format of content and the desired template. For example, to decide the order of large cap, mid cap, small cap shares while writing a narrative about equity movement in the stock market.

  3. Aggregation:

    No repetition is the basic rule of any report writing. To keep it simple and improve readability, merging sentences, omitting repetitive words, phrases etc, falls under this stage. For example, if NLG software is writing a report on sales and there is no substantial change in volume of sales for a few months, there are chances NLG software might write repetitive paragraphs for no substantial information. You will then have to condense it in a way it does not become long and boring.

  4. Lingual choice:

    Deciding what words to use exactly to describe particular concepts. For example, deciding whether to use the word ‘medium’ or ‘moderate’ while describing a change.

Natural Language Generation: Top Things You Need to Know UpGrad Blog

Best software products available for natural language generation

There are a variety of software products available to help you get started with Natural Language Generation. Quill, Syntheses, Arria, Amazon Polly, Yseop are popular ones. You can make a decision based on the industry you are operating in, for the department you will be deploying the tool, exact nature of report creation, etc. Let us see what kind of aid does these programs offer to the businesses.

  • Yseop: Yseop Compose’s Natural Language Generation software enables data-driven decision making by explaining insights in a plain language. Yseop Compose is the only multilingual Natural Language Generation software and hence truly global.
  • Amazon Polly: It is a software that turns text into lifelike speech, allowing you to create applications that talk, and build entirely new categories of speech-enabled products.
  • Arria: Arria NLG Platform is the one that integrates cutting-edge techniques in data analytics, artificial intelligence and computational linguistics. It analyses large and diverse data sets and automatically writes tailored, actionable reports on what’s happening within that data, with no human intervention, at vast scale and speed.
  • Quill: It is an advanced NLG platform which comprehends user intent and performs relevant data analysis to deliver Intelligent Narratives—automated stories full of audience-relevant, insightful information.
  • Synthesys: It is one of the popular NLG software products that scans through all data and highlights the important people, places, organizations, events and facts being discussed, resolve highlighted points and determines what’s important, connecting the dots together and figures out what the final picture means by comparing it with the opportunities, risks and anomalies users are looking for.

Natural Language Generation tools automate analysis and increase the efficacy of Business Intelligence tools. Rather than generating charts and tables, NLG tools interpret the data and draft analysis in a written form that communicates precisely what’s important to know. These tools perform regular analysis of predefined data sets, eliminate the manual efforts required to draft reports and the skilled labour required to analyse and interpret the results.

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What are the best resources to learn Natural Language Generation?

Gartner, a leading research and advisory company forecasts that most companies will have to employ a Chief Data officer by 2019. With the gigantic amount of data available, it is important to decide which information can add business value, drive efficiency and improve risk management. This will be the responsibility of Data Officers. With increasing global demand for the profession, there can be no better time to learn about Natural Language Generation which is a critical part of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence.

Though Natural Language generation has a huge scope, there are very few comprehensive academic programs designed to train candidates to be future ready. However, with a great vision, UpGrad offers a PG Diploma in Machine Learning and AI, in partnership with IIIT-Bangalore, which aims to build highly skilled professionals in India to cater to the increasing global demand. It gives you a chance to learn from a comprehensive collection of case-studies, hand-picked by industry experts, to give you an in-depth understanding of how Machine Learning & Artificial Intelligence impact industries like Telecom, Automobile, Finance & more.

What are you waiting for? Don’t let go of this wonderful opportunity, start exploring today!


Maithili Pradhan

Blog Author
Maithili is an alumni of St.Xavier's College - Mumbai and holds degrees in Management Studies and Public Policy. She has worked with various think tanks and has been involved in social media marketing for a brief period of time. She is well versed in research, policy analytics and communications writing.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1What are the differences between Natural Language Understanding and Natural Language Generation?

Natural Language Generation (NLG) and Natural Language Understanding (NLU) are sub-parts of natural language processing. Natural language understanding interprets the input text with the representation it has in the expert system and then understands the meaning of the sentence, whether written text or speech. Natural language generation maps the internal model to logical interpretation and displays the output text or speech. It generates the natural language using machines. Natural Language Understanding is the process of interpretation and reading of the language, whereas natural language generation is the process of writing and generation of the logical text.

2What are content determination and document structuring in Natural Language Generation?

Content determination refers to deciding what is mentioned in the final text. It often deals with explicit details and determines whether they should be present in the output or not. That information is further communicated in the generated text. Content determination is directly related to document structuring tasks. Document structuring involves grouping sentences and the order of data in the generated output text. It consists of tools to organize the data into generated text. It improves the clarity and readability of the sentence. Then, the data is aggregated to derive concepts from the sentences in the next stage.

3What is the realization technique in Natural Language Generation?

Realization refers to finding some surface-level representation from the underlying model. We use linguistic analysis to produce some abstract objects in the actual language. The generated text should be correct according to syntax rules. It should also follow orthography as well as morphology. It is an alternate approach to making an end-to-end model using machine learning to generate the output text without multiple stages. This technique is primarily used in Image Captioning, which automatically displays textual captions for a picture.

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