June 10, 2009
The Next Frontier of Search
Developers are entering the "next frontier of search" by trying to add structure to the mass of unstructured electronic data. Computational search engines like Wolfram Alpha and Google Squared aim to construct a database of factual information based on user search logic and present that data is some structured way, like "squares" akin to a spreadsheet display produced by Google Squared where rows of output represent attributes/characteristics related to the user's search terms.
Early reviews of both computation search engines are mixed and for a variety of reasons. Comparisons abound. See, e.g. Google Squared vs. Wolfram|Alpha … FIGHT! and What Is Google Squared? It Is How Google Will Crush Wolfram Alpha. Expectations are high, far higher I think than what these SEs can deliver. As information professionals, we must also be mindful of fundamental differences in their scope. Google Squared for example searches the Web while Wolfram Alpha's data is not drawn from the Web but from a database that is "curated" by Wolfram Research, meaning its data is drawn only from sources that are edited and checked. There is a huge difference between filtered and unfiltered data and search results will reflect this in addition to the differences in the algorithms used by Google Squared and Wolfram Alpha.
Law librarians have been testing Wolfram Alpha and Google Squared and rightly so -- it's what we are supposed to do. See, e.g., LLB's Early Reviews of WolframAlpha for Legal Research. Greg Lambert is the first (or at least one of the first) law librarians to write about a test drive of Google Squared for legal research purposes. See his Google Squared - Better Than Wolfram Alpha on Legal Searches? In my opinion, both computational search engines eventually will be tools law librarians turn to for factual research of legal documentation, like patent research (Greg's idea, not mine), but these tools will be additions to, not in lieu of, search engines we already use, and they probably will be more useful for business and scientific research than for legal research.
The Next Frontier of Search for Legal Research. I don't believe anyone in legal informatics is claiming otherwise about Wolfram Alpha and Google Squared but the point I want to make here is that the next frontier of search for legal research is replacing the aging search engines we current use regularly in LexisNexis and Westlaw and the only new search engine I have seen in recent years that offers the prospect of doing that is PreCYdent. Right now, the PreCYdent search engine is so closely and unfortunately associated with the free online legal research movement (see, e.g., Bob Ambrogi's Get Your Free Case Law on the Web and his earlier post, Sophisticated Search for Public Domain Law) that we tend to forget how innovative the PreCYdent algorithm is. That will change if/when LexisNexis or Westlaw admit that PreCYdent is better than their own search engines and license it.
It's time to replace the antiquated SEs in our fee-based online legal research services with ones that incorporate modern principles and techniques of information retrieval. Looks to me like a San Diego law prof and his team of software engineers have already accomplished this. For more, see Steven Robert Miller's PreCYdent: A New Search Engine Enters the Legal Research World and LLB's Law Prof as Toolmaker: An Interview with PreCYdent’s Thomas A. Smith. [JH]
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Google Squared appears to be similar to my patent application:
Frankly, I am getting a Déjà vu effect while going through the “Google Squared” application because it appears to be very similar in function to my United States patent application which was filed on April 12, 2007 and as publicly disclosed by the United States Patent and Trademark Office on October 16, 2008, when the patent application was published.
My patent application is titled as “Method And System For Research Using Computer Based Simultaneous Comparison And Contrasting Of A Multiplicity Of Subjects Having Specific Attributes Within Specific Contexts” bearing Document Number “20080256023” and Inventor name “Nair Satheesh” which may be viewed at http://patft.uspto.gov/ upon Patent Applications: Quick Search.
Google Squared appears to be using at least some if not many of the same methods and systems as set forth by me more than two years ago in my patent application. In fact there are many more methods and systems disclosed in my patent application which I believe will help resolve certain inaccuracies found in current Google Squared application.
I have issued legal notices to Google through my Patent Attorney in the US but Google has not responded yet to any of my notices.
Posted by: Nair Satheesh | Aug 21, 2009 5:28:21 AM
Great post! I completely agree that the time is ripe to apply new search technologies to databases of legal information. The problem that the legal community in general is facing with citator tools is actually similar to the one faced by patent researchers - doing the best possible search usually requires expensive subscriptions, often to either a Thomson Reuters or LexisNexis product (or both). Fortunately in the patent search industry we've been seeing more free and low cost players enter the market, and more semantic search and other supposed time-savers are being developed. (We provide free reviews of these search products at http://www.Intellogist.com if you are interested.)
However, my conclusion for patent researchers is the same as yours for general legal researchers - these new tools will be in addition to, not in lieu of, the ones we currently use. In patent research, the stakes are too high to rely on a black box algorithm or a free database without curation.
A final thought on Wolfram Alpha - my colleagues and I were amused to discover that it seemingly cannot recognize a US patent number as input!
Posted by: Kristin at Intellogist.com | Jun 10, 2009 2:39:47 PM