Thursday, June 19, 2008


Open-domain question answering systems in general seek to answer questions in natural language with answers in their document collection. Rather than returning a link to a document similar to a question, the answer is returned with a link to where the answer was found.

Recently I read that it would be rare to find a software package including all the pieces to a question answering system. There are usually many pieces to such systems gathered from text mining and natural language processing, as well as several tuned parameters. However, the good news for the question answering community is that there is now an open source system available: OpenEphyra. This system has been put together by a Ph.D. student at CMU, Nico Schlaefer. The system appears to be easily extensible. It has built functionality to test the system on TREC QA track competitions. Great work Nico Schlaefer and any else who have helped.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Contextual Computing

I have no subscribed in Google Reader to several blogs out there. One of which is Joel Dehlin's blog. He is the CIO for the LDS church. His latest post is on the top 10 most disruptive technologies for 2008-2012, where he sites an article from It is an intersting little list, though I am not sure what is meant by "fabric computing" and "semantics". One of the topics that stood out was "Contextual Computing".

As I understand it, contextual computing refers to the awareness of an application of the environment of a user and of the users usual actions. The most usual applications of which would be the use of cell phones equipped with GPS devices to alert the user of nearby resteraunts or other nearby services. I would guess that Google's use of a users IP location to filter ads could also be considered contextual computing. I would suggest that a good contextual computing application would perhaps go unnoticed by a user, but would increase the expectations of a computer to understand their intentions. For example, if Word noticed that nearly every time that it automatically uppercased a word after a period, the user undid the action, then Word would stop automatically uppercasing words after periods. Once the user caught on that Word had caught on to this pattern, the user would expect Word to catch onto all other useful patterns.

Of course, there is the possibility that certain patterns noticed by Word or other applications would not be appreciated. Take for example a user who opens up Yahoo!'s home page for the most part every 30 min. to check for email. Now if the browser or operating system started to predict this behavior and automatically opened up Yahoo!, that would make me uncomfortable.

Lastly, some applications only exist because of contextual computing. All of the new features associated with GPS devices in cars are of no use without location awareness.

It will be interesting to see what creative uses await for contextual computing.