Computers could get Wikipedia on the brain

Researchers say tapping PCs into Wikipedia will make them smarter

Researchers at an Israeli university say they have come up with a way to make computers smarter by enabling them to consult the online Wikipedia encyclopedia.

The research could result in smarter search engines, e-mail filters and other advanced applications, according to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology team.

The program devised by the researchers helps computers map words and fragments of text to a concepts database that relies on more than a million-plus articles on Wikipedia. This "background knowledge" helps the computers put words and text fragments into context.

"Humans use a significant amount of background knowledge" to understand text, "but we didn't know how to have computers access such knowledge," said Technion researcher Shaul Markovitch in a statement.

Current search and filtering systems tend to look at how often words appear in two texts but don't understand the meanings of the words, he said. That helps explain why some spam filters will block all messages with a word such as vitamins in them, but not recognize that a term like B12 might also be a classic term found in spam about miracle medical cures.

The researchers eventually will look to expand the capabilities of their program so that it can also consult the Web page links inside Wikipedia articles.

Search continues to be a hot topic among researchers.Microsoft, for example, earlier this year awarded 12 grants of US$30,000 to $50,000 to scientists studying different aspects of search engine technology.

While Google and other engines enable people to find what they're looking for and more, no one would argue such tools are perfect. In fact, Butler Group, an IT research and analysis organization, this week released a report titled "Enterprise Search and Retrieval," which concludes that "ineffective search and discovery strategies are hampering business competitiveness, impairing service delivery and putting companies at risk."

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