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Blog Language and The Machine: Words vs Meaning

Machines are our new partners, personally and professionally. Machines control immense amounts of data and need to be able to tell us about what they find within their data. The name of the game now is bridging the gap between what machines know and what we need it to understand.

During our recent Data Storytelling Virtual Summit, Kris Hammond, Professor of Computer Science at Northwestern University and Chief Scientist at Narrative Science, spoke about the importance of bridging the gap.

The difference between how we communicate and how machines communicate is rooted in truths and deltas.


  • Machines are not designed to tell the truth, even machines which are designed for language.
  • They are designed to read well and create words.
  • They do not necessarily say things which are true or meaningful.


  • They operate on a basis of recognizing patterns and using common phrases.
  • They do not recognize that deltas or differences are the significant elements within data. We talk about changes, in weather, traffic, stock prices, etc. We don’t typically talk about things which are exactly the same.

The point of language is not to sound good, the point of language is communication and relationships. Most of what machines know is not human language. They know data and how to analyze data. Analyzation is the key operation of machines, but that can only go so far. Communication is the next step.

Machines and humans solve problems in very similar ways. We follow the same process:

  • Take data 
  • Analyze it and then 
  • Figure out the facts
  • Make inferences
  • Create conceptual outlines

Where machines and humans differ is the creation of narratives based on the inferences and facts that have been discerned. The next step to bridge the communication gap is to work to humanize machines, so that humans can be less mechanized. If we achieve this, we can act in ways that are uniquely human and we can free the information that is currently trapped within our data.

Learn more about Data Storytelling

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