IBM’s Search Strategy

The New York Times writes:

I.B.M. [recently] released OmniFind, the first program to take advantage of its new strategy for solving search problems. This approach, which it calls unstructured information management architecture, or UIMA, will, according to I.B.M., lead to a third generation in the ability to retrieve computerized data. The first generation, according to this scheme, is simple keyword match – finding all documents that contain a certain name or address. This is all most desktop search systems can do – or need to do, because you’re mainly looking for an e-mail message or memorandum you already know is there. The next generation is the Web-based search now best performed by Google, which uses keywords and many other indicators to match a query to a list of sites.

I.B.M. says that its tools will make possible a further search approach, that of “discovery systems” that will extract the underlying meaning from stored material no matter how it is structured (databases, e-mail files, audio recordings, pictures or video files) or even what language it is in. The specific means for doing so involve steps that will raise suspicions among many computer veterans. These include “natural language processing,” computerized translation of foreign languages and other efforts that have broken the hearts of artificial-intelligence researchers through the years. But the combination of ever-faster computers and ever-evolving programming allowed the systems I saw to succeed at tasks that have beaten their predecessors.

Mr. Ciccolo, the search strategist, said that in a way his team was trying to match – and reverse – what Google has achieved. “As Google use became widespread, people began asking why it was so much easier to find material on the external Web than it was on their own computers or in their company’s Web sites,” he said. “Google sets a very high standard for that Web. We would like to set the next standard, so that people will find it so easy to do things at work that they’ll wonder why they can’t do them on the Internet.”

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.