12. June 2005 · Comments Off on Aquaint: The Holy Grail Of Search · Categories: Technology

This from James Fallows at NYT:

One branch of the federal government is desperate enough for a better search tool that its efforts could be a stimulus for fundamental long-term improvements. Last week, I spent a day at a workshop near Washington for the Aquaint project, whose work is unclassified but has gone virtually unnoticed in the news media. The name stands for “advanced question answering for intelligence,” and it refers to a joint effort by the National Security Agency, the C.I.A. and other federal intelligence organizations. To computer scientists, “question answering,” or Q.A., means a form of search that does not just match keywords but also scans, parses and “understands” vast quantities of information to respond to queries. An ideal Q.A. system would let me ask, “How has California’s standing among states in per-student school funds changed since the 1960’s?” – and it would draw from all relevant sources to find the right answer.

In the real Aquaint program, the questions are more likely to be, “Did any potential terrorist just buy an airplane ticket?” or “How strong is the new evidence of nuclear programs in Country X?” The presentations I saw, by scientists at universities and private companies, reported progress on seven approaches to the problem. (The new I.B.M. search technology discussed here last year is also part of the Aquaint project.)

The world’s best search engine? Katharine Hepburn in Desk Set. 🙂

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