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Re: MoreOn: Attempts at establishing harmful conventions

2004-11-30 18:22:11

I think we need to distinguish between human-level conventions and
protocol elements.  Any "harmfulness" in the former is not something
that can be addressed technically.

Agreed that we need to make the distinction.  The harmfulness
arises when mindless mechanical processing subverts or otherwise
interferes with the human communication by attempting to
overload protocol keywords onto natural language text.

It's hardly unusual for computer programs to try to interpret natural language text. For instance, programs that sort English-language book titles know to ignore case, an initial "The", most punctuation characters, etc. We find it useful to write programs that can compare postal addresses and know when they're the same place even when they're not written identically. Similarly, programs that can pick out telephone numbers, meatspace addresses, email addresses, and URIs from natural language text are quite useful even if they're imperfect. So we shouldn't be surprised when programs try to make sense of things like "Re:" and "[listname]". (but we would do well to avoid enshrining such conventions in protocols, because protocols don't evolve as easily as human conventions)

Humans want things to be mostly unstructured; computer programs want things to be highly structured. Humans prefer loose definitions for data elements; computer programs prefer strict definitions. And yet we want computer programs that deal with human natural language communications. This seems like an inherent conflict that we're not likely to resolve.

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