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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.

28 U.S. citizens depart Afghanistan on Qatar Airways flight

Passengers board a Qatar Airways aircraft bound to Qatar at the airport in Kabul on September 10, 2021. Photo: Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images

The State Department on Saturday confirmed that a Qatar Airways charter flight left Kabul on Friday with 28 U.S. citizens and seven lawful permanent residents on board.

The big picture: Friday's flight is the third such airlift by Qatar Airways since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, AP reports.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Smaller than expected "Justice for J6" rally met with large police presence

Police officers watch as demonstrators gather for the "Justice for J6" rally in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18, 2021. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

A few hundred demonstrators were met by a heavy law enforcement presence on Saturday at the "Justice for J6" rally outside the fenced-off U.S. Capitol, AP reports.

The latest: Four people were arrested at the rally, including one person with a gun, one with a knife and two with outstanding warrants, per the U.S. Capitol Police.