Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Automatic context sensitive search

I just came across an amazing application, Watson from Intellext. This program automatically searches online for content relevant to documents that you are working on. It supports a variety of Internet sources and it seems to be possible to add more. Right now it only supports Microsoft Office programs (Word, Powerpoint, etc.) and only English language, somewhat limiting its usefulness, but when it can be used, it's great.

Watson gets the keywords from the document and searchs for them, showing the results in a side panel

The results are surprisingly relevant and often very useful

It saves you the hassle of carefully thinking about relevant search queries. The document you are editing becomes one big search query and the results (a few hundred links, usually) come almost instantly. So far I have only tried it on existing documents, but it should be interesting to try to use it while writing a new document, augmenting my knowledge and memory with the power of the Internet. :)

Obviously, in the future automatic context-sensitive search will become much more common. Computers will be presenting us with hints, ideas, reminders, based on what we are doing, reading, talking about. The amount of available data, including our photos, e-mails, posts, conversations, etc. is growing very fast, as well as the amount of relevant information online. In the past it made sense to perform research (originally a literature search, later a google search) before writing a paper or preparing a presentation. But increasingly this becomes redundant and useless, as the amount of useful and relevant information often far exceeds our need in it.

So it makes sense to pay less attention to getting all the information. The computer should just give us something and we will use it. This is how our memory works - we are not trying to produce a perfect recollection of our past actions or of school knowledge that we acquired - we simply use what our subconsciousness gives us. A good illustration to the expected future of search is in Charles Stross's Accelerando, where search agents are running on human exocortices.


Mike Treder said...

Hmm, I downloaded Watson a few days ago, but I haven't been very happy with it. It seems to hog the CPU whenever I open a new document, and a few times it's caused a system crash. Also, of course, I wish it would access Foxfire. >:(

On a happier note, I'm about halfway through "Accelerando" and really enjoying it.

Danila said...

Hi, Mike. Weird, I just wrote "I'm in the middle of your book now and it's very good so far." to Charles Stross today regarding some post on his blog. It felt really strange to read almost the same sentence written by you. :)

I don't expect Watson to be very usable, since it's just one of the first approximations. But I really miss the technology of the 2015. :( It's very annoying to do all the writing/editing/organising work manually, even though I know it's possible for computers to do it for me. Also, keeping up with relevant sites/news/blogs would take too much time - I know I don't have to place all that knowledge into my brain, but to get it in the right moment I need some uber-tool that would be in 2005 what Google was in 2000.