May 28, 2005

Gone to get pants: a handwriting recognition story

This story is from The New Yorker (May 30, 2005, p. 95), in the bottom-of-column series headed "Constabulary Notes from All Over", and it is repeated here because it did make me giggle. The linguistic angle (apart from the fact that real syntax aficionados will see an occurrence of may with past time reference) is a pessimistic point about artificial intelligence: nonlinguistic context affects handwriting recognition in ways that computers are unlikely to be able to simulate any time soon. I don't think you'll see the punchline coming.

From the Boulder (Colo.) Daily Camera.

   At least one driver reported Saturday evening that a nude man was "streaking" on eastbound U.S. 36 in Broomfield, according to police and police scanner reports.

   Broomfield police officer Jim Alston said there are no suspects. He said an officer found an abandoned car in the vicinity of the incident with a note that he thought read: "Gone to get pants," and that he thought the car may have belonged to the streaker.

   However, Alston said, it turned out the note read: "Gone to get parts."

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at May 28, 2005 03:32 PM