Mon, Jul
2 New Articles

Watson APIs - A Review of the Language APIs

  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

I don’t know about you, but right now I am totally confused about what each of the three Natural Language APIs do. You with me, dude?

In the past months, we’ve looked at Watson’s Natural Language APIs. If you’re totally clear on what the three Natural Language APIs do, then you can skip this article. But if you’re like me and get seriously confused about the differences among the three, you may want to read on.

Does it seem odd to you that Watson has three Natural Language APIs? I mean they have only two for the translation side: text to voice and voice to text. So why so many to look at language?

First Thing

The first thing we need to remember is that we are talking about “natural” language.

Natural Language is structurally different from what most Business Intelligence systems do. Most of them are based on “structured” language—that is, language that has been manipulated and put into a format that is easy for BI systems to understand. In short, a structured language passage removes the ambiguity and looseness that is present in a normal conversation or text section.

But Natural Language systems, thanks to Watson, are able to compensate for that. And that means what? It means these APIs can cut a bunch of time and cost off of any BI initiative.

Differences (and Similarities)

Below I’ve listed the Natural Language APIs (three of the most common Watson APIs) and revealed how they are similar and different.

Natural Language Translator

This is not a difficult one to separate from the herd. It takes a text document from one of the supported languages and translates it to another language. Nothing fancy, just a translator, word (or phrase) by word (or phrase).

This API supports a number of languages at this point, and we can assume the number will grow as the API matures. Right now, the translation supports English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese/Brazil, Spanish, Chinese (Simple), and Chinese (Traditional). That’s a few of the most common ones.

This API was covered in the May TechTip. Did you read it? You can still see the article and learn more.

Natural Language Classifier

This is not translation-oriented, but rather deals with intent. It was covered in the June TechTip. It takes a piece of text from one language (see above list) and renders it in the next language with intent as the goal. The essence here is to look at the keywords, relationships, entities, categories, and concepts that define what is important in a given text snippet. And when I say “snippet,” I’m definitely talking about a snippet because the Classifier is question-and-answer-oriented. The most important thing to remember is that the NLC is designed not for a lengthy text section, as the other language APIs are, but for a much shorter text snippet—specifically, a question or statement.

The idea is to take the snippet and determine what the verbiage was about. Probably, this is ideally suited to customer service applications. What is this customer really calling in about? Why did a particular customer ask that particular question? Was she unsure how the product worked? Was he unsure how to put it together? Does his service (or the product) not work at all? Or is it a problem with a specific portion of the product or service? Does she not understand how to assemble the item? Or is setup the issue? What was the overriding issue that led him to ask this question?

Seems unimportant maybe, but if you can get a handle on what most customers (or new as opposed to veteran customers) are having trouble with, you can update both your AI bots (including the automated portion of your telephone help line) as well as your human operators so that they can isolate the real problem quicker.

Natural Language Understanding

The NLU looks at text passages, not just questions. And it works on finding insights into both the emotion and the concepts behind a text sample and returning a “confidence” rating. This one was covered in a July TechTip.

The NLU makes a distinction between sentiment and emotions. Sentiment is a single value, but emotion is split into joy, sadness, disgust, anger, and fear. From there, we go into entities (physical things that were actually talked about in the piece), keywords, concepts, and categories.

The thing I like about this one is that I tend to think of keywords and entities as being fairly specific, whereas concepts and categories are a little more open-ended.

What bothered me was that the API seemed to go for very solid and real keywords or concepts, rather than reading between the lines. Perhaps that will come with time, or perhaps it was my imagination. And for most business writing, there shouldn’t be too much that is not explicitly spelled out.


Three different APIs. All dealing with “natural” language issues. And each with a slightly different theme.

It depends on your needs, of course, but using them together, in twos or threes (or fours if you include the other APIs), may be a very effective way to deal with your company’s needs.

David Shirey

David Shirey is president of Shirey Consulting Services, providing technical and business consulting services for the IBM i world. Among the services provided are IBM i technical support, including application design and programming services, ERP installation and support, and EDI setup and maintenance. With experience in a wide range of industries (food and beverage to electronics to hard manufacturing to drugs--the legal kind--to medical devices to fulfillment houses) and a wide range of business sizes served (from very large, like Fresh Express, to much smaller, like Labconco), SCS has the knowledge and experience to assist with your technical or business issues. You may contact Dave by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at (616) 304-2466.

MC Press books written by David Shirey available now on the MC Press Bookstore.

21st Century RPG: /Free, ILE, and MVC 21st Century RPG: /Free, ILE, and MVC
Boost your productivity, modernize your applications, and upgrade your skills with these powerful coding methods.
List Price $69.95

Now On Sale



Support MC Press Online


Book Reviews

Resource Center

  • SB Profound WC 5536 Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application. You can find Part 1 here. In Part 2 of our free Node.js Webinar Series, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Brian will briefly discuss the different tools available, and demonstrate his preferred setup for Node development on IBM i or any platform. Attend this webinar to learn:

  • SB Profound WP 5539More than ever, there is a demand for IT to deliver innovation. Your IBM i has been an essential part of your business operations for years. However, your organization may struggle to maintain the current system and implement new projects. The thousands of customers we've worked with and surveyed state that expectations regarding the digital footprint and vision of the company are not aligned with the current IT environment.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT Generic IBM announced the E1080 servers using the latest Power10 processor in September 2021. The most powerful processor from IBM to date, Power10 is designed to handle the demands of doing business in today’s high-tech atmosphere, including running cloud applications, supporting big data, and managing AI workloads. But what does Power10 mean for your data center? In this recorded webinar, IBMers Dan Sundt and Dylan Boday join IBM Power Champion Tom Huntington for a discussion on why Power10 technology is the right strategic investment if you run IBM i, AIX, or Linux. In this action-packed hour, Tom will share trends from the IBM i and AIX user communities while Dan and Dylan dive into the tech specs for key hardware, including:

  • Magic MarkTRY the one package that solves all your document design and printing challenges on all your platforms. Produce bar code labels, electronic forms, ad hoc reports, and RFID tags – without programming! MarkMagic is the only document design and print solution that combines report writing, WYSIWYG label and forms design, and conditional printing in one integrated product. Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Request your trial now!  Request Now.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericForms of ransomware has been around for over 30 years, and with more and more organizations suffering attacks each year, it continues to endure. What has made ransomware such a durable threat and what is the best way to combat it? In order to prevent ransomware, organizations must first understand how it works.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericIT security is a top priority for businesses around the world, but most IBM i pros don’t know where to begin—and most cybersecurity experts don’t know IBM i. In this session, Robin Tatam explores the business impact of lax IBM i security, the top vulnerabilities putting IBM i at risk, and the steps you can take to protect your organization. If you’re looking to avoid unexpected downtime or corrupted data, you don’t want to miss this session.

  • SB HelpSystems ROBOT GenericCan you trust all of your users all of the time? A typical end user receives 16 malicious emails each month, but only 17 percent of these phishing campaigns are reported to IT. Once an attack is underway, most organizations won’t discover the breach until six months later. A staggering amount of damage can occur in that time. Despite these risks, 93 percent of organizations are leaving their IBM i systems vulnerable to cybercrime. In this on-demand webinar, IBM i security experts Robin Tatam and Sandi Moore will reveal:

  • FORTRA Disaster protection is vital to every business. Yet, it often consists of patched together procedures that are prone to error. From automatic backups to data encryption to media management, Robot automates the routine (yet often complex) tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:

  • FORTRAManaging messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. Messages need a response and resources must be monitored—often over multiple systems and across platforms. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events? Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:

  • FORTRAThe thought of printing, distributing, and storing iSeries reports manually may reduce you to tears. Paper and labor costs associated with report generation can spiral out of control. Mountains of paper threaten to swamp your files. Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing. Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

  • FORTRAFor over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i. With batch job creation and scheduling at its core, the Robot Job Scheduling Solution reduces the opportunity for human error and helps you maintain service levels, automating even the biggest, most complex runbooks. Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:

  • LANSA Business users want new applications now. Market and regulatory pressures require faster application updates and delivery into production. Your IBM i developers may be approaching retirement, and you see no sure way to fill their positions with experienced developers. In addition, you may be caught between maintaining your existing applications and the uncertainty of moving to something new.

  • LANSAWhen it comes to creating your business applications, there are hundreds of coding platforms and programming languages to choose from. These options range from very complex traditional programming languages to Low-Code platforms where sometimes no traditional coding experience is needed. Download our whitepaper, The Power of Writing Code in a Low-Code Solution, and:

  • LANSASupply Chain is becoming increasingly complex and unpredictable. From raw materials for manufacturing to food supply chains, the journey from source to production to delivery to consumers is marred with inefficiencies, manual processes, shortages, recalls, counterfeits, and scandals. In this webinar, we discuss how:

  • The MC Resource Centers bring you the widest selection of white papers, trial software, and on-demand webcasts for you to choose from. >> Review the list of White Papers, Trial Software or On-Demand Webcast at the MC Press Resource Center. >> Add the items to yru Cart and complet he checkout process and submit

  • Profound Logic Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.

  • SB Profound WC 5536Join us for this hour-long webcast that will explore:

  • Fortra IT managers hoping to find new IBM i talent are discovering that the pool of experienced RPG programmers and operators or administrators with intimate knowledge of the operating system and the applications that run on it is small. This begs the question: How will you manage the platform that supports such a big part of your business? This guide offers strategies and software suggestions to help you plan IT staffing and resources and smooth the transition after your AS/400 talent retires. Read on to learn: