Problem Description

10 January, 2005 at 19:26 Leave a comment

If you are looking for a catch-phrase, our research is about capturing, storing, archiving, indexing, searching and utilizing memories as related to information and our search for it. It is a perennial struggle really.

To distinguish ourselves from MyLifeBits and because our research is more academic in nature, we use a neologism – information retri-review – to describe our field of study/exploration/work/vision/dream…

Problem of Information Retri-Review (IRR):
The problem we have modestly set ourselves to solve is that of “information retri-review” viz. the ability to archive, search and derive rich value from all the information one ever encounters in their life. No kidding.
This is perhaps the ‘
Holy Grail‘ of search dating as far back as the Memex vision and recently elevated to the status of a ‘Grand Challenge of Computing Science’ through the ‘Memories-for-Life’ project. Simply put,

IRR is basically about understanding what one is looking for in ones very own ocean of information and providing it quickly.


Status-Quo of IRR

In an era of information overload, search has become a vital tool in navigating the net. In fact, today it is much easier to find information on the web than on our own PC’s. This is inspite of “desktop search” tools like Google Desktop Search, MSN Toolbar, Yahoo-X1, Copernic, Blinkx etc. For us, the problem of finding files based on textual content on our machines is a significant step towards achieving the IRR goal of making our entire life searchable and manageable in naturalistic ways. But it has to be acknowledged that we are just looking at the tip of the iceberg. First of all, managing information (like say, our email) over 10’s of years is extremely hard for an end-user. Services, applications, machines, interests and whatever can change, well, changes and no one really knows how to manage that. Secondly, the PC is cluttered with junk which gets indexed.
        Perhaps, more importantly, for all their talk, these desktop search tools still rely on decades old brute force, keyword based algorithms and temporal ordering of results which are clearly unsuitable. The next stage is when tools are enabled with the technology to get to know you better and doing a better job of remembering, cataloguing and managing all the information you come across. The irony is of course that these approaches have been tried before (hint: agents) with no or little or negative effect.

The present bunch of tools and their developments look promising indeed but raising issues of privacy and importantly, still, lacking out-of-box-thinking and a fresh way of looking at the problem.


Why is IRR important?

IRR wants to automagically manage all the stuff one has read, written, seen and heard thereby unlocking memories by smart utilization of information hidden in the terabytes of data in a typical life. The information could be residing on many devices at multiple locations in myriad media modalities of text, images, audio, video, sense and emotions. This is inspite of multiple applications/services one uses and how careful and loyal one is to synchronize everything (which today is a huge added overload). From this perspective, desktop search is still a dumb, clumsy tool, inadequate in its coverage of information (web-based email and file-formats, not to mention TV, telephone conversations, SMS messages on mobile, DVD’s watched etc. are still hidden/worse, disposed), scaleability and very often failing to come up with exactly what you had in mind. Inspite of many a partial and grandiose attempts, IRR is still a largely unsolved problem because there seems to be something missing. Is it profiling? Is it context? Is it personalization? Is it chaos? Is it kazam? Is it anything we know yet?

Maybe IRR is a mixture of all of them and then some more because when dealing with such huge amounts of information over long periods of time, concepts like digital immortality, privacy, ownership, identity, scalability, replication, legalities etc. immediately come to mind complicating IRR still further. But also making it extremely important as we are talking about life, legacy and a lifes worth of information of individuals.

—-
Cutting down the chase. IRR is the next big problem. As of today, no one yet knows how to solve the IRR problem. But we think we are making progress…

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