KDnuggets : News : 2004 : n16 : item21 < PREVIOUS | NEXT >


Web search next step: giving a straight answer to a straight question

Aug 26th 2004 -- REDMOND, WASHINGTON -- From The Economist print edition

WHAT is the next stage in the evolution of internet search engines? AltaVista demonstrated that indexing the entire world wide web was feasible. Google's success stems from its uncanny ability to sort useful web pages from dross. But the real prize will surely go to whoever can use the web to deliver a straight answer to a straight question. And Eric Brill, a researcher at Microsoft, intends that his firm will be the first to do that.

Dr Brill's initial crack at the problem is a system called "Ask MSR" (MSR stands for Microsoft Research). This program uses information on web pages to respond to questions to which the answer is a single word or phrase -- such as

"When was Marilyn Monroe born?"

Ask MSR starts by manipulating the question in various ways: by identifying the verb, for example, and then changing its tense or moving it into different positions in the sentence ("Marilyn was Monroe born", "Marilyn Monroe was born" and so on). The resulting phrases are then fed into a search engine, and documents containing matching strings of words are retrieved. It sounds a promiscuous strategy, but gibberish phrases produce few matches, so, as Dr Brill puts it, "being wrong is very cheap."

Here is the rest of the story.

KDnuggets : News : 2004 : n16 : item21 < PREVIOUS | NEXT >

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