Software that does your research for you

By: 
September 20, 1999

Internal documents. Magazines. Trade journals. White papers. Conference
proceedings. University research papers. Patents. Catalogs. Thousands of web
sites.

The engineer's reading list is endless. And the list is multiplying
exponentially. With time constraints, deadlines, quicker time-to-market demands,
how does one keep up with evolving technology and research?

The answer: with semantic processing software. Semantics is the relationship
of words. Using highly sophisticated algorithms, the software analyzes the
network or structure of sentences seeking out the subjects, actions, and objects
of the actions. This is very similar to the dreaded sentence diagramming you
likely paid little attention to in seventh grade English. After this numeric
decoding of sentences, semantic processing compiles the information into
whatever format the user has designated.

Companies such as IBM are rapidly developing software that would apply this
process for researching and compiling all types of computer data, making mounds
of information easily accessible via a personal computer.

To date, however, only CoBrain, a software package from Invention Machine
(Boston), is commercially available. CoBrain does in minutes what it would take
an engineer days to do: research hundreds of documents, read them, search for
relationships between concepts, and create a structured knowledge-base optimized
for sharing within a corporation. "This ability greatly enhances the engineers'
productivity in problem solving and new product/process development," says
Valery Tsourikov, CEO and chief scientist of Invention Machine. With the
software reading, searching, and indexing the information for the engineer, he
or she has more time for conceptual exploration and testing and can create
higher-quality and more innovative concepts. Not to mention capturing
intellectual property (and IP creators) for leveraging throughout the
enterprise, he continues.

The software's engine or database contains more than one million words. Using
these words and their relationship to one another, the software searches for
documents that contain a user's request, such as "stabilize emulsions." While
any self-respecting keyword search engine, such as Lycos or Yahoo, can do this,
Co-Brain goes further. The software reads these documents and comes back with
folders of information indexed by method. Open a folder and the user immediately
sees an explanation of the function as well as a link to the original document.

Developed by mechanical engineers sympathetic to the "keeping up with
technology" problem, CoBrain organizes and displays the information in a
logical, problem-solution manner "the way an engineer thinks," says Thomas
Murphy, Vice President of Information Manufacturing Corp. (Rocket Center, WV),
who has been beta testing the software, along with Unilever, Motorola,
Medtronic, and DaimlerChrysler.

"We are testing CoBrain against data we have already captured," says Murphy.
"Invention Machine has done a tremendous job with science and engineering
information and we are testing it's application in other non-science and
engineering domains." The program captures the lexicon and vocabulary so it can
intelligently capture relationships between ideas.

Murphy asked CoBrain to process four 100-page papers about environmental
protection for water resources, written by different authors. Within 40 seconds,
CoBrain read and organized the information into 80 action-object-subject
associations.

"It would have taken me at least a week to read through and understand the
concepts

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