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Computer Turns Prosaic Dunces into Lyrical Poets

Software hones anyone's written English

Writing for England's "The Observer, David Smith reviews the Whitesmoke software saying... It may come as a godsend to George Bush, John Prescott and any others who sometimes struggle to explain themselves in plain English. A computer software program claims that it can automatically turn garbled writing into clear and simple prose.

WhiteSmoke, an American-Israeli company, says the new version of its 'text enrichment' software not only checks spelling and grammar but comes up with the word you are looking for when trying to finesse a legal form, a piece of creative writing or even a love letter.

The concept reopens the question of whether computers can truly ever simulate human culture. A decade ago Deep Blue, the IBM supercomputer, beat the world chess champion Garry Kasparov, but machines have fared less well at painting, poetry and music.

Futurologists have predicted that the next giant leap for the internet will be the 'semantic web', which will be able to understand the meaning of words and their contexts, making search engines more precise.

Online writing tools already exist but attempts by computers to imitate language have often been clumsy and jarring.

WhiteSmoke says its system is different because it uses artificial intelligence to draw upon millions of examples of well-written English, then applies them to new contexts.

'If you love language already, it would be like a calculator for a mathematician,' said Hilla Ovil-Brenner, the founder and chief executive of WhiteSmoke. 'But if you don't write so well and want to sound more sophisticated, it works like a charm. It's like a teacher who sits with you and reacts to your sentences. It can change the mood of your letter.'

WhiteSmoke analyses text as it is being written, or at the user's request, and suggests grammatical improvements, amends spelling and changes text.

It will switch 'I don't know weather the whether will be nice today or not' to 'I don't know whether the weather will be nice today or not'. Common errors such as 'Between you and I' become 'Between you and me'.

The software crawls news and business websites for common usage of English, then uses that knowledge to edit prose, based on the type of English style chosen, such as commercial, legal, medical, casual, creative or even flirtatious.

Does it work? YOU be the judge.
Here are two prose styles put to the test:

From Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott...

He said: 'The objectives remain the same and indeed it has been made clear by the Prime Minister that the objectives are clear. And the one about the removal of the Taliban is not something we have as a clear objective but it is possibly a consequence that will flow from the Taliban clearly giving protection to bin Laden and the UN resolution made it absolutely clear that anyone that finds them in that position declares themselves an enemy and that clearly is a matter for these objectives.'

WhiteSmoke 'The goals remain the same, and indeed it has been made apparent by the Prime Minister that they are clear-cut. And the objective about the removal of the Taliban is not something we have as an absolute, but it is potentially a consequence resulting from the Taliban evidently protecting bin Laden. The UN resolution made it absolutely explicit that anyone that finds themselves in that position affirms themselves an enemy and that clearly is a matter for these objectives.'

Verdict: Definite improvement

And here is an excerpt by Robert Harris, from "The Ghost"

He wrote: I should have said, 'Rick, I'm sorry, this isn't for me, I don't like the sound of it,' finished my drink and left. But he was such a good storyteller, Rick - I often thought he should have been the writer and I the literary agent - that once he'd started talking there was never any question I wouldn't listen, and by the time he was finished, I was hooked.

WhiteSmoke: Altered some punctuation. But the original was otherwise fine.

Verdict: It's good enough already.

By... David Smith, technology correspondent
The Observer, September 30th ...

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Views: 14

Comment by Valerie V. Geth on August 14, 2009 at 11:03pm
Wanted to find out the pricing of WhiteSmoke 2009. Unfortunately, when I click on Get It Now a
warning comes up that I can not connect on to that website. I may have a few people that might be interested in the program


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