April 30, 2007
Barney speaking at U. Washington
I am giving a talk tomorrow (Tuesday, 5/1/07) at the University of Washington, hosted by Professor Oren Etzioni.
UPDATE: The video for this talk is now available.
Here are details of the talk. The abstract is below.
Powerset and Natural Language Search
Search has become a critical part of our daily lives and the primary gateway to information and services of all kinds. Much of the success has been driven by the growth of the internet and behind-the-scenes improvements in search technology. However, the search user interface, based on keywords and advanced search operators, has changed very little since the earliest information retrieval systems.
In this talk, we discuss the concept of natural language search. Central to this is a new user experience, in which users express queries in natural language and the system responses respect the linguistic information in the query.
To realize this vision at broad scope and scale will require advances in a variety of technology areas, including natural language processing, information extraction, knowledge representation, and large-scale search indexing and retrieval systems.
In addition, it will require innovations in user interface. Issues include changing user behavior, educating users about the affordances and constraints of the technology, supporting users in formulating effective queries, and managing expectations.
With a new search architecture centered on natural language, linguistic and lexical knowledge translate directly into improved capabilities and experiences for end users. This creates a challenge to encode enough knowledge to cross the threshold for a broad application. It also creates an opportunity to establish a framework for introducing new knowledge through automated and community-based approaches.
While the challenges are formidable, the opportunities are great. Natural language search has the potential to transform and improve all aspects of the search experience: precision, recall, power, usability, presentation and interaction.
We will conclude the talk with a discussion of Powerset, a startup company that is tackling these challenges in an attempt to bring natural language search to the world.
April 11, 2007
Charles Simonyi launch tour
My friend and Powerset Investor Esther Dyson has some nice photos of Charles Simonyi‘s launch tour and space launch in Russia.
I have to say that watching the launch was an AMAZING experience. Perhaps the whole tour was really a marketing exercise designed to get us all to want to head upwards too. And in fact, Charles watched the launch of Greg Olsen, the third private space traveler (Charles is fifth). I’d bet that among us already there are one or two who are now planning to go – not just dreaming about it.
… and here at Flickr, too, where I will have photos from Mission Control of the docking in about 36 hours.
This makes me nostalgic for my days at NASA. Especially seeing the photo of Charles in the spacesuit and the complex procedures they had to learn. (Here is more info about the CLARISSA spoken dialog system we flew onboard ISS).
April 7, 2007
When is Natural Language useful?
In talking about Powerset and natural language search, I am frequently asked “When is Natural Language search useful?”. The idea here is that maybe there are some specific situations where you really want natural language search. My general response is that this is like asking “When is Natural Language useful?” to talk to other people? The very question assumes that there are some particular situations where you want to use natural language, and others where you would prefer to just grunt out a few words.
I am aware of a number of situations where it is really clear that you want the power and usability of natural language for search, including: