NLP vs. LLM: Differences, Uses, and Impacts

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Rafael Timbó
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Rafael Timbó
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Chief Technology Officer
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Learn the key differences between NLP and LLMs, their use, and what the future looks like for these AI technologies.
Published on
June 25, 2024
Updated on
July 2, 2024

Natural language processing (NLP) refers to various techniques that computers use to understand and generate human language, while large language models (LLMs) are trained on vast amounts of data to predict the most likely word or phrase to come next in a sequence. While NLP focuses on understanding language semantics and structures, LLMs primarily excel at generating text based on statistical patterns learned from data.

A key difference between NLP and LLMs is their level of understanding; NLPs are better at actually understanding human language, while LLMs are essentially huge, sophisticated prediction machines that don't understand the language they generate.

Both NLP and LLM are needed to advance language capabilities because NLP provides an understanding of human language structures and semantics. At the same time, LLM uses this understanding (and vast amounts of data) to generate coherent and contextually appropriate text at scale.

What Is NLP?

NLP is a subfield of artificial intelligence (AI) that helps computers understand and generate human language. In the mid-20th century, NLP was a simple rule-based way to translate text between languages.

Over the decades, NLP models’ capabilities have advanced far beyond basic text translation. NLP technologies have many uses today, from search engines and voice-activated assistants to advanced content analysis and sentiment understanding. This expansion is largely due to AI’s ability to process and analyze large datasets quickly and more accurately, which helps NLP do more sophisticated and context-aware analysis.

There are two main types of NLP models: rules-based and statistical (machine learning). Rules-based models use predefined linguistic rules to process language, while machine learning models use statistical methods to learn from data and make predictions.

Some of the key features specific to NLP include:

  • Syntax analysis: NLP analyzes the arrangement of words in a sentence to figure out grammatical structure, which helps computers understand how sentences are constructed.
  • Semantic analysis: This allows NLP systems to discern the meanings of sentences by examining word relationships and sentence context—crucial for tasks such as language translation and content recommendation.
  • Named Entity Recognition (NER): NLP identifies and classifies key elements from text into predefined categories such as names of people, organizations, locations, expressions of times, quantities, monetary values, and percentages.
  • Coreference resolution: This involves finding all expressions that refer to the same entity in a text, which is necessary for making sense of pronouns and other referring expressions in documents.
  • Sentiment analysis: By evaluating the tone and context of text data, NLP can determine the sentiment behind statements, which is useful for monitoring social media and customer reviews.
  • Topic segmentation and recognition: NLP tasks divide text into segments and recognize the topic of each segment to improve content discovery and navigation.
  • Speech recognition: This transforms spoken language into text and is widely used in smartphones and voice-driven assistance systems.

What Is an LLM?

An LLM is a type of AI system that generates human-like text based on vast amounts of training data. These models, which evolved from earlier machine learning models and algorithms, use complex structures called transformers to process and produce language. Introducing models such as Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) and OpenAI’s ChatGPT marked significant advancements in this field.

LLMs can handle various linguistic tasks, from translating languages to generating informative and coherent text. Some specific features of LLMs include:

  • Scalability: LLMs can scale effectively to use larger datasets, which improves their outputs’ accuracy.
  • Adaptive learning: LLMs keep learning and adapting from new data even after initial training, enhancing their ability to generate relevant and timely content.
  • Text generation: LLMs can generate text that mimics human writing styles—this is useful in content creation, marketing, and entertainment. LLMs’ generative AI abilities surpass those of basic NLP systems, whose outputs are typically shorter and simpler.
  • Software integration: LLMs can integrate into software applications for many use cases, including customer service chatbots, healthcare decision-making, virtual assistants, and interactive storytelling.
  • Better dialogue simulation: LLMs are good at simulating human-like conversations, including managing dialogue turns, remembering past interactions, and generating contextually relevant responses in real time. These capabilities are usually limited in simpler NLP frameworks.
  • Complex question answering: LLMs can handle intricate question-and-answer tasks by synthesizing information from various segments of texts to generate complex responses, going beyond simple keyword matching typically seen in basic NLP systems.
  • Cross-domain knowledge: Due to LLMs’ extensive training across wide-ranging datasets, LLMs can integrate knowledge from multiple domains into single outputs. This lets them generate responses referencing a broader range of information than NLP systems, usually limited to narrower domains.

Key Differences Between NLP vs. LLM

NLP and LLMs share some fundamental similarities, including that each uses a mix of linguistics and machine learning techniques to generate language. Both use algorithms that learn from data, though the scale and the depth of learning can vary. They also improve human-computer interactions by helping machines understand and produce human-like text. Finally, both technologies are central in use cases such as sentiment analysis, language translation, and text summarization, driving advancements in AI.

That said, there are important differences between LLM and NLP. NLP covers a broad spectrum of tasks, including converting text to speech, understanding sentiment, or classifying text based on content. It employs a variety of algorithms designed to handle specific linguistics tasks such as content generation, often without requiring massive computational resources.

By comparison, LLMs, built on advanced neural networks and transformer models, use deep learning to generate human-like text and perform complex language processing tasks. They require substantial computational power to train on and analyze considerable datasets to learn patterns in language use.

Model Complexity and Requirements

One of the first critical differences between NLP and LLMs is in their model complexity. Simple NLP models, such as topic modeling or entity extraction, don’t need a lot of computational resources. However, LLMs such as GPT are built with billions of parameters, which means they need substantial computational power and advanced hardware. This increased complexity allows LLMs to perform more sophisticated tasks but also requires more infrastructure and maintenance.

Training Data Scale

NLP systems typically operate on smaller, more focused datasets tailored to specific tasks such as text classification or entity recognition. LLMs, however, are trained on enormous datasets that include many different formats and topics from the internet, books, and articles. This extensive training data allows LLMs to learn diverse language patterns and generate more nuanced and contextually appropriate responses.

Understanding of Context

NLP models can grasp context within a limited scope, often relying on predefined rules and algorithms. LLMs use advanced techniques such as the self-attention mechanism—weighing the importance of different words in a sentence—to maintain context over longer text spans. This capability lets LLMs produce coherent narratives and handle complex language tasks with a deeper contextual understanding, making them more effective in summarization and AI-generated code tasks.

Technically, LLMs don’t “understand” context as they’re essentially massive word-prediction machines, but since they’re trained on so much data, their outputs are usually more contextually relevant than NLP models.

Text Generation

While NLP models are often used to interpret or transform existing text, LLMs are better at generating new, coherent text from scratch. LLMs can create essays, stories, and even computer code that mimics human writing styles. This generative ability is one of the standout features of the best large language models.

Versatility and Adaptability

NLP systems are generally task-specific and need significant reprogramming to adapt to different language tasks. LLMs, by comparison, are more versatile and can switch between various tasks such as translation, summarization, and question-answering with minimal fine-tuning. This adaptability makes LLMs especially useful in dynamic environments where multiple language tasks are performed.

Deep Learning Integration

NLP has increasingly integrated deep learning techniques to enhance its capabilities, but not all NLP systems rely on deep learning. Traditionally, NLP models relied on rules that humans programmed into them, which allowed them to identify patterns.

LLMs, by contrast, are inherently built on deep learning frameworks, using neural networks to improve continuously as they process more data. With deep learning, models can learn from large amounts of data without being explicitly taught. As a result, LLMs can achieve higher performance and accuracy in complex language tasks.

Performance on Specific Tasks

NLP models are efficient for specific, well-defined tasks such as text classification and structured data extraction. LLMs, however, perform exceptionally well on tasks that need a broader understanding of language and context, such as generating AI-generated code and conducting in-depth sentiment analysis. This broad capability lets LLMs handle a wider variety of tasks with greater flexibility and depth.

Uses of NLP and LLM

LLMs, with their advanced text generation capabilities, are used in applications ranging from content creation and customer service chatbots to complex code generation. These models leverage vast datasets and sophisticated neural network architectures to produce human-like text, making them invaluable in applications such as tech recruiting tools, where they can analyze job descriptions and match candidates with suitable roles.

NLP provides some of the foundational techniques that allow these models to understand and process human language. Techniques such as text classification, named entity recognition, and sentiment analysis are essential for parsing and interpreting large volumes of text data.

NLP and LLMs are also important in cybersecurity. NLP techniques detect and analyze threats by scanning and interpreting security logs and user activities, identifying patterns indicative of potential breaches. LLMs can predict and respond to cyber threats in real time and detect phishing attempts, which are highly language-based.

When used together, NLP's efficiency in handling specific tasks can make resource-intensive LLMs more efficient in using computational resources, leading to more scalable solutions.

The Future of NLP and LLMs

Looking ahead to upcoming AI trends, it’s clear that NLP and LLMs will keep improving, likely with significant advancements in efficiency, understanding, and model compression. Integrating improved embeddings and sophisticated neural architectures will enhance machine translation, content creation, and various AI applications.

As they evolve, it's crucial to consider the pros and cons of AI, such as addressing potential biases and ethical concerns. By navigating these challenges thoughtfully, the tech industry can use the full potential of NLP and LLMs to create more innovative, fair, and effective AI solutions.

In the future, we may see:

  • Reducing computational power: Advanced learning algorithms and optimized large-scale architectures will reduce the computational power required for pre-training, language understanding, and deploying models—making AI models more accessible and cost-effective.
  • Powering edge devices: Model compression techniques will allow for the deployment of powerful LLMs on edge devices (devices that process data locally), allowing for real-time language generation and processing in various applications.
  • Improving contextual understanding: Continued research in contextual understanding and self-attention mechanisms will lead to AI systems that can comprehend and generate more nuanced and accurate responses.
  • Strengthening semantic understanding: Developing better embeddings (numerical representations of words) will improve LLM sentiment analysis, machine translation, and summarization.
  • Reducing AI biases: Incorporating diverse datasets and fine-tuning models with ethical considerations will help minimize AI biases and ensure more equitable AI outcomes.

Hire LLM and NLP Developers With Revelo

As NLP and LLM technologies continue to advance, their applications will only grow more impactful across different industries.

Revelo understands the critical role that skilled developers play in harnessing these technologies. We specialize in matching businesses with time-zone-aligned developers who are rigorously vetted for technical skills, soft skills, and English language proficiency. Revelo's comprehensive services include helping with onboarding processes such as payroll, benefits administration, taxes, and local compliance.

Revelo provides ongoing support throughout the developer's time with your company to maintain engagement and retention, allowing you to focus on your core business objectives. Whether hiring NLP developers or making an AI solution, Revelo's expertise can help you find the right talent to meet your needs.

To learn more about how Revelo can support your tech hiring needs, contact us today.

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