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The Beginnings at Microsoft Research
However, IBM OfficeVision effort buckled under the
company's stifling bureaucracy, and its collapse threatened to end Heidorn, Jensen, and Richardson's NLP Project. In a bold move, the trio jumped ship and moved the project to Microsoft's fledgling research lab in 1991, becoming the first researchers to join Microsoft Research (MSR) and the first to leave the prestigious halls of IBM Watson for the relatively small software company, mainly known for its DOS program.
To add insult to injury, this move took place at time
when IBM and Microsoft were going through a very public "divorce" over the OS/2 personal computer operating system. Microsoft had decided to abandon the joint OS/2 development effort in favor a Windows-only strategy. Microsoft's decision was widely viewed within IBM as nothing less than base treachery, and losing three top researchers to Microsoft during this period made matters all the more infuriating.
Hence, Heidorn, Jensen, and Richardson's transition
to MSR was fraught with nasty episodes, such as IBM locking them out of their offices. The rights to the group's intellectual property were a real point of contention between the two companies. Fortunately for the trio, they had placed most of the work on the NLP Project in the public domain in various scientific journals and publications. Nonetheless, the trio had to coauthor a book to document this fact before IBM relinquished its claims to the concepts.
Once at MSR, the trio immediately began recruiting
theoretical and computational linguists, starting with the team
members they had originally assembled at IBM. Bill Dolan, Lucy Vanderwende, and Joseph Pentheroudakis, the first three recruits, were deemed critical in moving the NLP Project along - and they possessed sufficient computer skills to pass muster with Microsoft's development managers. Dolan and Vanderwende had worked with the technology at IBM, while Pentheroudakis had been at Executive Communications Systems (ECS), a leading developer of natural language software.

The NLPWin System

The NLP Group at MSR, growing steadily in number,
strove to make their NLP Project's conceptual modules a reality in the NLPWin system. This systems conceptual framework consists of the components shown in Figure 1, with each module in this series designed to successively abstract the structure and meaning of the words and sentences within the language.
The NLP Group's bottom up approach to natural
language processing contrasts sharply with the approach typically taken by researchers in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) field. AI scientists primarily focus on creating a machine that reasons similar to a human and on reach this ability to thinking, assume it is a relatively trivial task to generate a natural language dialogue with humans. However, after forty plus years of AI research, this top down approach has shown little success. The mapping between the abstract concepts found in machine reasoning and the highly rich, complex nature of natural language is much more difficult than first imagined.
Figure 1: NLPWin system conceptual framework and components.

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