Monday, September 5, 2011

Language Technologies and the Future of libraries: Preliminary thoughts

I was just looking at a course that I will be taking this semester entitled: “Language and Computer Technologies for Libraries and Beyond” .

The course introduced me to the IBM computer Watson that played Jeopardy and beat the best human champions. I also learned about Eliza, an intelligent agent (chatterbot) in the 1960's that tricked human beings into thinking that she was a real therapist who could help them talk about their problems.

It got me thinking that in the future, computers may be so intelligent, that we can design online systems that interact with people, without their knowledge that they are actually interacting with computers. These computers can then draw large datasets and analyse what information is required based on what the person is asking and deliver the right information to the user to meet the need expressed.

I see this applied in libraries in two ways:
1. virtual reference services
2. search of online catalogues

For virtual reference, instead of having a librarian, we can have an intelligent agent (or chatterbot) that can respond to the online user and guide the user based on what they ask to the right source online.

For the online catalogue search, we could design online systems that interprets what users put in the search box and retrieve the most relevant sources to the user query.

I already encounter these types of system through online systems that are designed to answer frequently asked questions. They have a database of questions and answers and are able to pull answers based on similarities between questions being asked to those that are already in their databases.

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