Automated factual knowledge

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Within second language acquisition theory a lot has been written about the value of comprehensible input. After all, language teachers spend a great deal of time searching for suitable materials from the target culture to help students master a second language. Although linguistic input is clearly insufficient, it is certainly a critical building block in the learning process. The same applies to computers or so it seems. The New York Times recently ran an article on how computers deal with decoding the complexity of human language as reflected on the ever-increasing amount of texts on the Internet. The Never Ending Language Learning Project (NELL) constantly scours the web in search of new facts to learn. It has already amassed a stunning number of facts and it continues to improve its accuracy every day. The payoff could be significant –the researchers claim– as these artificial intelligence systems can be used in web search applications that respond to natural language or virtual personal assistants. The time when language cybertutors can assist students as they struggle with their verb conjugations has arrived (e.g. tagarela, Langbot).