Academia’s quest for the ultimate search tool

CNET reports that the University of California at Berkeley is creating an interdisciplinary center for advanced search technologies in search of creating the “ultimate search tool” and to “address the explosive growth of Internet search and the complex issues that have arisen in the field.” Such issues (many of which I’ve previously commented on) include privacy, fraud, multimedia search and personalization. From the article:

“We want to solve the problems that have been engendered by the success of search,” Wilensky said in an interview. Wilensky is a professor of computer science and information management at Berkeley.

…the search problems of today are different from those of five years ago. With books, scholarly papers and television programs being digitized and put online, the technology necessary to search through the material needs to be that much better. People need a way to trust the information they find and to ask more-complex questions with search tools so they can extract knowledge or ideas.

…At Berkeley’s center, Wilensky has ambitious plans to solve problems within a broader definition of search. That means analyzing and organizing diverse forms of information–anything from images and video to e-commerce–and helping people synthesize it and extract knowledge.

One major area of development will be in trust and privacy. For example, how believable is the content dug up on Google or how do you know an eBay seller is truly trustworthy?

The article details an interesting attempt by researchers at CMU to address the privacy concerns with personalized search:

Jaime Carbonell, director of CMU’s Language Technologies Institute, said his research team is perfecting a technology for personalized search that would solve some of the privacy concerns surrounding the wide-scale collection of sensitive data, such as names and query histories. CMU’s project takes an auxiliary approach to software already being tested by commercial players like Yahoo and Google, which are collecting and storing search histories on their own networks.

CMU developed an add-on application that people download to a PC. It allows users to maintain and modify personal information, such as query history, preferences and favored sites, within a search profile. A search engine would be able to query the profile, along with the user’s search term, to deliver a set of tailored results each time, thereby keeping personal information off the network and on the client’s desktop.

Very interesting stuff.

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