5 Questions with… Afonso Mendes

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For our fourth and final post on the people behind news.bridge, we’ve had a chat with Afonso Mendes, head of R&D at Portuegese language tech company Priberam. His team has been building the platform’s sophisticated summarization features.

1) Afonso, when and how did you first get in touch with human language technology?

That was back in 1991, two years after Priberam was created. We joined forces with ILTEC (a linguistic institute here in Portugal) to build a spell checker and a grammar correction tool. At the time, I led the team that developed the first European Portuguese proofing tools for Microsoft Office – which were, by the way, later on licensed to Microsoft.

2) What is the most fascinating aspect about news.bridge?

I think it’s the benefit of having a selection of state-of-the-art tools that can be applied to a number of related, but different tasks – and the benefit of being able to integrate new tools without redesigning the system or incurring high development costs. This is also a key commercial advantage.

3) What is the project’s biggest challenge?

There are two major challenges: The first is to make news.bridge a tool used by a large number of professionals, to make it some sort of standard. The second challenge, more on the technology side, is to create a system that is eventually able to receive direct feedback from its users and thus help to constantly improve the algorithms of its tool portfolio.

4) Who’s in your team and what are they currently working on?

Three members of our R&D team are involved in the project: Sebastião Miranda is a Senior Software Developer and a Research Scientist specialized in information retrieval and deep learning for natural language understanding. He has overall responsibility for the summarization module used in news.bridge. David Nogueira is also a Senior Software Developer and Research Scientist, and he is currently working on named entity recognition, sentiment analysis and question answering. I am the head of R&D at Priberam, and as such I’m in charge of project management and coordination.

5) Where do you see news.bridge in five years?

I expect that that an extended set of natural language understanding services are plugged into the the platform by then, increasing productivity even further. I also hope that news.bridge will have become a de facto standard for the creation of multilingual subtitles, voice-overs, and summaries.