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Are definitions of words inherently weak?

I’ve been pondering this question for some time. I read Jan’s post tonight along with his white paper and thought I would bring this topic up.

The reason I ask is that the brain is able to solve problems by substituting one object with another object. E.g. use a chair instead of a ladder (if not available) to climb up and grab something. 

Here are two definitions to illustrate my point.

Ladder - steps consisting of two parallel members connected by rungs; for climbing up or down
Chair   - a seat for one person, with a support for the back

The best chat bot would most likely fail to see that a chair and ladder, in the context of extending ones reach, serve the same purpose.  A chair may be substituted for a ladder.

Other objects that may be substituted but have definitions that are not similar.
* glass and bucket - moving water from point A to B
* tree branch or golf club - to whack a bad guy in self-defense
* concrete blocks or 4x4 pieces of lumber - for raising something off the ground

The list goes on. 

I believe definitions are inherently weak when used by themselves. I believe it is necessary to ‘supplement’ definitions in order to get a chat bot to ‘seem’ more human.

I’m curious what thoughts you all have on this topic.



  [ # 1 ]

That’s why, in my bot, I have several “properties” for each word.

glass, bucket, tree, block - they all have property of “pos”, with a value of “noun”.
BUT, glass, and bucket could have property of something like “can-hold” with value of “water”, where as block wouldn’t really have that property.  “tree” could have perhaps a property of “living = true” where glass, bucket wouldn’t have.  But all these DO have pos=noun.


  [ # 2 ]

Interesting statement. I’d agree with Victor, to do this using properties + doing a useful search on the database of known objects.
With respect to a weak definition, I don’t think it’s really ‘weak’ as you say, but perhaps more ‘multi faceted’.
What’s also interesting is this: you can have a chair in general, or a specific chair (my chair), which can have different properties.


  [ # 3 ]

Yes, or the chair of a meeting… or to chair a meeting (verb, well infinitive phrase)


  [ # 4 ]


I suppose its a big enough challenge determining the intended meaning of the word ‘chair’ in a sentence….like the example usages you both mention above.

I agree with the notion that an object (e.g. bucket) is multifaceted in the sense that an English definition is generally inadequate. It only describes one facet.  The property (“can-hold”) is a good idea in that it provides an additional facet of information unrelated to the definition.  And each object can have more than one property.

So, a scoop, trashcan, cup, tank would all share this property “can-hold”.  So if the human expresses the need to store something and needs a suggestion, the bot could iterate through all the properties and suggest something ‘unconventional’.  How many of us use old coffee cans to store various bits in the garage or basement?

I ramble on…



  [ # 5 ]

Yes, and this is exactly how my bot understands words… I have all kinds of ‘weird’ property names… whatever does the trick.

yes, a lot of words share the same properties.  So the real “meaning” of a word is its unique SET of properties.

Words that mean pretty much exactly the same thing, will pretty much share all the same properties (and values of those properties).

if X and Y are synonyms, then the set of properties that X has will also be shared with Y

And yes, I agree, word definition are incomplete… they assume all the experiences we collect over the years - which is not a problem for humans, but is for computers!!


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