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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Natural Language Processing is one of AI's hottest fields, yielding both practical products in the marketplace and bleeding-edge research.

The big picture: A virtual assistant that you can truly converse with — which depends on highly accurate speech and text recognition — is still beyond the horizon, but the field is making real progress.

What's happening: Ground is being gained so quickly in NLP that technical advances are threatening to outpace the benchmarks used to test for them, according to the new AI Index report.

  • The SuperGLUE benchmark for language understanding tasks was launched in 2019 to replace the existing GLUE standard, which had to be updated because AI models kept exceeding it.
  • There was initially a nearly 20-point gap between the best AI systems and human performance, but by January, systems from Microsoft and Google had surpassed humans on SuperGLUE, which asks models to carry out tasks involving answering questions, language inferences and making sense of word disambiguation.

What they're saying: "If we can build an AI that can read PDF files, Word files, websites and the like, then we can actually build something that knows how to answer almost anything we need to deal with," says Igor Jablokov, CEO of the NLP startup Pryon.

Of note: Raleigh-based Pryon last month launched its first commercial product — a virtual assistant platform that can process large amounts of data and use it to answer user questions — for banks and tech companies.

The bottom line: An AI that can read is just as important as one that can write.

Go deeper: AI is industrializing

Go deeper

Ina Fried, author of Login
Mar 2, 2021 - Technology

China will dominate AI unless U.S. invests more, commission warns

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photo: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The U.S., which once had a dominant head start in artificial intelligence, now has just a few years' lead on China and risks being overtaken unless government steps in, according to a new report to Congress and the White House.

Why it matters: Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who chaired the committee that issued the report, tells Axios that the U.S. risks dire consequences if it fails to both invest in key technologies and fully integrate AI into the military.

Updated 51 mins ago - Axios Twin Cities

Police: Officer who shot Daunte Wright accidentally pulled gun instead of taser

The officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, outside Minneapolis Sunday appeared to have inadvertently pulled out her gun instead of a taser, police said.

Driving the news: "This appears to me, from what I viewed in the officer's reaction and distress immediately after, that this was an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr. Wright," Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon told reporters Monday.

2 hours ago - World

Scoop: U.S. and Israel to hold strategic Iran talks on Tuesday

Jake Sullivan. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty

Top national security officials from the U.S. and Israel will convene virtually on Tuesday for a second round of strategic talks on Iran, three Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: The talks come two days after an explosion at an Iranian nuclear facility that experts consider a likely act of Israeli sabotage, and one day before the U.S. resumes indirect nuclear talks in Vienna over a return to the 2015 nuclear deal — a prospect that has raised anxiety levels in Jerusalem.