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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.

Airlines call for Biden admin's "immediate intervention" in 5G deployment

Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The CEOs of leading U.S. air cargo and passenger carriers on Monday warned the Biden administration there could be "catastrophic disruption" after AT&T and Verizon deploy a new 5G service this week.

Driving the news: They said in a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and other top federal officials ahead of the C-Band 5G service's deployment Wednesday that "the nation's commerce will grind to a halt" and "could potentially strand tens of thousands of Americans overseas."

Updated 3 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm lashed much of the East Coast Sunday and Monday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: Authorities in North Carolina confirmed that two people died in a car crash and that they responded 600 vehicle accidents during the storm on Sunday, per the Washington Post.