Aardvark’s Answer Machine

Typing a question  into a search engine and getting a specific, relevant answer hasn’t improved much since the 1957 librarian-favorite film Desk Set when EMMARAC (the Electromagnetic Memory and Research Arithmetical Calculator) answered a question about Watusis and the island of Corfu with Rose Hartwick Thorpe’s poem Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight.  Make it a subjective question, e.g., “What  is the best Chinese restaurant in Palo Alto?,” and the results are even less helpful, as noted in a “Digital Domain” article by Randall Stross in today’s New York Times.  The article, “Now All Your Friends Are in the Answer Business,” discusses “Aardvark . . . a Web service that answers users’  questions through their friends and friends-of-friends.”

Often at the reference desk I don’t answer a patron’s question but, instead, seek to find someone who can provide a good answer — I’m more a  switchboard operator than fountain of knowledge.  So Aardvark’s approach of using networks to make the connection between question and human-supplied answer is intriguing.  As the article explains,

A new service offered by Aardvark (vark.com), however, provides specific recommendations. Its advice is always current, too, obtained on the fly from those we trust, like friends, but whose collective expertise far exceeds that of the relatively few people we happen to know personally.

Founded in 2007 and based in San Francisco, the company has just completed beta testing of its answer service and opened it to the public last week. It begins with the social network that you’ve established elsewhere. Presently, it requires Facebook; other networks will be added, it says.

. . .

Aardvark may come to be preferred over answer databases and “decision engines” if many people want a speedy answer from a fellow human being.

Legal Ontologies Spin a Semantic Web

Legal Ontologies Spin a Semantic Web
By Dr. Adam Z. Wyner
Special to Law.com
June 8, 2009

“The Semantic Web, an extension of the current www, promises to make documents meaningful to people and computers by changing how legal knowledge is represented and managed. Dr. Adam Z. Wyner explains how legal ontologies will help complete the new Web’s design.”

From the article:

ONTOLOGY FOR CASE LAW

Consider an example ontology for case law. There are various approaches to find relevant case law — using text-mining software, search tools, proprietary indices or legal research summaries. These approaches can extract some latent linguistic information from the text but often require researchers to craft the results; indeed, successful information extraction depends on an ontology, and as there is not yet a rich ontology of the case law domain, much information in cases cannot be easily extracted or reasoned with. Moreover, none of these approaches apply inference rules.

Reading a case such as Manhattan Loft v. Mercury Liquors, there are elementary questions that can be answered by any legal professional, but not by a computer:

Where was the case decided?
Who were the participants and what roles did they play?
Was it a case of first instance or on appeal?
What was the basis of the appeal?
What were the legal issues at stake?
What were the facts?
What factors were relevant in making the decision?
What was the decision?
What legislation or case law was cited?

Legal information service providers such as LexisNexis index some of the information and provide it in headnotes, but many of the details, which may be crucial, can only be found by reading the case itself. Current text-mining technologies cannot answer the questions because the information is embedded in the complexities of the language of the case, which computers cannot yet fully parse and understand. Finally, there are relationships among the pieces of information which no current automated system can represent, such as the relationships among case factors or precedential relationships among cases.

In conclusion, the author remarks:

Legal ontologies are one of the central elements of managing and automating legal knowledge. With ontologies, the means are available to realize significant portions of the Semantic Web for legal professionals, particularly if an open-source, collaborative approach is taken.

 

About the author:

Dr. Adam Zachary Wyner is affiliated with the department of computer science at University College London, London, United Kingdom. He has a Ph.D. in linguistics from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in computer science from King’s College London. He has published on topics in the syntax and semantics of natural language, as well as artificial intelligence and law concerning legal systems, language, logic and argumentation. For further information, see Dr. Wyner’s blog LanguageLogicLawSoftware.

Source: Law.com – Daily Newswire

Bing for travel

As many of us make summer travel plans, I learned about a feature of the new search engine Bing that might be useful.

In today’s Wall Street Journal Katherine Boehret “reviews Microsoft’s new search engine, Bing, which offers related content suggestions, a ‘hover’ option that shows a brief snap shot of web pages, and easy navigation of restaurant and travel information.”

The Wall Street Journal, Wednesday, June 3, 2009, p. D1

The Mossberg Solution

Microsoft Effort To Best Google Yields Results

Bing Search Engine is Snazzy, Provides User-Friendly Links; Roger Federer, the Bare Facts

By Katherine Boehret

For people looking up airline flights, Microsoft integrates a technology called Bing Travel into the search.  This tool predicts whether a fare will go up or down in the future based on data aggregation and analysis.  A built-in tool works similarly with hotels, analyzing data to tell if you’re getting a good deal.

Katherine Boehret’s look at Bing is available at:

WSJ.com/PersonalTech

Wolfram Alpha, Kumo and Google Squared

Good article in the Comment & Analysis section of today’s Financial Times, ” Wolfram Alpha asks some searching questions of the web,” by John Gapper.

The article points out that “[w]hile search engines are a starting point in a quest to find things out, Wolfram Alpha provides complete answers.”  Or attempts to, anyway.  According to the article, Wolfram Alpha is especially successful when dealing with “scientific and mathematical data, or the sort of information held routinely on public databases such as . . . World Factbook . . . “

Unlike other search engines, Wolfram Alpha’s data “are not drawn from the web but from a database that is ‘curated’ by Wolfram Research.  . . . Its data are drawn only from sources that are edited and checked . . . “

The article also reports that next week Microsoft will launch what is codenamed Kumo, a search engine to compete with Google.

There’s more on a new Google feature  too:

. . . “One of the hardest problems in computer science is data extraction.  Can we look at the unstructured web and extract values and facts in a meaningful way?” asked [Google's] Marissa Mayer, . . .

Ms. Mayer showed off Google Squared, an experimental new feature that would allow Google users . . . to assemble data about, for example, various breeds of small dogs in a form like a spreadsheet.

Westlaw rises to legal publishing fame by selling free information

From the Minneapolis City PagesWestlaw rises to legal publishing fame by selling free information,” by Erin Carlyle.

West makes its money by selling free, public information — specifically, court documents — to lawyers. On this simple model, the company raked in $3.5 billion in revenue last year, placing it on a par, sales-wise, with retail giant Abercrombie and Fitch. But its operating profit margin really impresses: At a whopping 32.1 percent, West outpaces that of tech giants like Google (19.4 percent), Amazon (3.4 percent), and eBay (20.8 percent). Westlaw excels at one simple task: saving lawyers time by making legal information more readily accessible. The company charges a firm of six to ten lawyers as much as $30,000 a year to access its state and federal databases. But since attorneys’ time is worth a lot of money, the service pays for itself. After all, the more work they can do, the more money they can make.

How did it do this?  According to the story, by following these eight rules:

Rule 1: Find a niche with growth potential

Rule 2: Organize information to make it useful

Rule 3: The internet is a distribution channel — not a product

Rule 4: Turn words into math

Rule 5: Separate the signal from the noise

Rule 6: Computers can’t do everything

Rule 7: Treat content like patented material

Rule 8: Print’s not dead, it just needs online help

The Next Generation of Legal Citations Survey, and Authentication and Link Rot Issues

Link rot is a pet peeve of mine.  A posting I made on June 11, 2008, “Law School Laptop Bans,” already has a broken link to a news story and the posting isn’t even a year old yet.  And I can’t count the number of times I have found a terrific-sounding right-on-point resource in a law review footnote, only to find its URL leads to the dreaded “404 Not Found.”  But it’s more than a pet peeve issue, as this survey makes clear:

“The Next Generation of Legal Citations: A Survey of Internet Citations in the Opinions of the Washington Supreme Court and Washington Appellate Courts, 1999-2005″

Journal of Appellate Practice and Process, Vol. 9, No. 2, Fall 2007

TINA CHING, Seattle University School of Law

As more legal research is conducted online, it is reasonable to conclude that there will be a corresponding increase in citations to the Internet by judges in their opinions. With the widespread public use of the Internet to access information along with the constant changes and impermanence of websites, citing to the Internet should be an issue of increasing concern to the legal community across the country. This paper surveys the types of Internet sources the Washington state Supreme Court and Appellate Court justices are citing. It discusses the interrelated issues of link rot and the impermanence of web pages, citation format, authentication and preservation of online electronic legal information.

 

Source:  LSN Legal Information & Technology Vol. 1 No. 11,  04/29/2009

The Wayback Machine and More From Brewster Kahle

Really nice 2-page spread on Brewster Kahle, “The internet’s librarian,”  in this week’s issue of The Economist.

The Economist

March 7th – 13th 2009

Technology Quarterly insert

Brain scan

The internet’s librarian

Brewster Kahle wants to create a free, online collection of human knowledge.  It sounds impossibly idealistic — but he is making progress

It is easy to dismiss Mr. Kahle as an idealist, but he has an impressive record of getting things done.

I have used the Wayback machine — i.e., The Internet Archive — to find needed documents that were not otherwise available online anymore.  And apparently I’m not the only one:

The most famous part of the archive is the Wayback Machine (its name inspired by the WABAC machine in the 50-year-old television cartoon featuring Rocky and Bullwinkle). This online attic of digital memorabilia stores copies of internet sites . . . Paul Courant, the dean of libraries at the University of Michigan, equates what the archive does for the internet with what the British Museum did for the British empire. . . . The Wayback Machine “gives us access to what people were producing at different points in time,” he says.  Evidentially this is of more than just academic interest: the site gets 500 page requests per second.

The article also discusses “Mr. Kahle’s wider goal:

to build the world’s largest digital library.  He has recruited 135 libraries worldwide to openlibrary.org, the aim of which is to create a catalogue of every book ever published, with links to its full text where available. . . .

The article notes that “this activist for online privacy is also a staunch supporter of openness” and details efforts and litigation Mr. Kahle has been involved with.

Google’s newspaper ads

From The Arts section of today’s New York Times

A Google Search of a Distinctly Retro Kind

To Satisfy a Lawsuit, Internet Powerhouse Must Turn to Print Ads

By Noam Cohen

To comply with a class-action suit by copyright holders affected by Google’s plan to offer all of literature online, old-fashioned legal notices in 70 languages are being placed in newspapers worldwide.

. . .

Old-fashioned legal notices prove best in tracking down far-flung authors

“SEARCH FREEDOM – New online services offer law searches gratis”

An article in the ESQ section of the January 2009 issue of California Lawyer magazine offers a nice summary of free legal research case law databases.  The article, “Search Freedom – New online services offer law searches gratis,”  by Jake Widman, also reports on a survey involving Precydent and its retrieval abilities:

. . . To test Precydent’s search functions, CEO Thomas A. Smith, a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law, asked several law professors to list the cases that should come up in particular example searches. He then compared the results obtained on Precydent against those from commercial services. Precydent, according to Smith, delivers results that more closely mirror the law professors’ lists.