Research Interests

Now, a few words on looking for things.
When you go looking for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad. Because of all the things in the world, you're only looking for one of them.
When you go looking for anything at all, your chances of finding it are very good. Because of all the things in the world, you're sure to find some of them.

--The Zero Effect, written and directed by Jake Kasdan

It is precisely when you are looking for something else that you find out the most interesting things. When you look for a needle in a haystack, perhaps you may turn it up by system, but often you find it simply by kicking the straws around.
— Oliver Strunk, 1957 symposium, quoted by David G. Hughes, ed., Instrumental Music (1959)

Thou shalt not answer questionnaires
Or quizzes upon World-Affairs,
    Nor with compliance
Take any test. Thou shalt not sit
With statisticians nor commit
    A social science.

— “Under Which Lyre: A Reactionary Tract for the Times”, W. H. Auden


These days, I am most interested in connections between natural language processing and social interaction. More and more of life is now manifested online, and many of the digital traces that are left by human activity are increasingly recorded in natural-language format; there are thus tremendous opportunities for natural-language processing to contribute to the analysis and facilitation of socially embedded processes. Here is a link to my co-taught 2015 course entitled “Natural Language Processing and Social Interaction” that covers some of the topics in this arena that I'm intrigued by.

The goal of natural language processing and information retrieval (I do not subscribe to the view that these are different fields) is, in a broad sense, to enable computers to use human language as a (one-way or two-way) communication medium accurately, robustly, and gracefully [a short, breezy history]. With respect to “pure” language technologies, my research interests are in the empirical and theoretical problems that arise in the pursuit of this goal.

A sampling of areas I've worked on:

See my papers page for a full list and more information.

Doing this work really just involved following the lead of my students and postdocs, who have been spectacular. My debt to them is unbounded.

Papers on these topics.
Lillian Lee's home page
Cornell Natural Language Processing Group