Special Lecture

Powerset and Natural Language Search

Wednesday, March 7, 2007
4:00 pm to 5:00 pm
Barney Pell, Founder and CEO, Powerset

Search has become a critical part of our daily lives and the primary gateway to information and services of all kinds. Much of the success has been driven by the growth of the internet and behind-the-scenes improvements in search technology. However, the search user interface, based on keywords and advanced search operators, has changed very little since the earliest information retrieval systems.

In this talk, we discuss the concept of natural language search. Central to this is a new user experience, in which users express queries in natural language and the system responses respect the linguistic information in the query.

To realize this vision at broad scope and scale will require advances in a variety of technology areas, including natural language processing, information extraction, knowledge representation, and large-scale search indexing and retrieval systems.

In addition, it will require innovations in user interface. Issues include changing user behavior, education, supporting users in formulating effective queries, and managing expectations.

With a new search architecture centered on natural language, linguistic and lexical knowledge translate directly into improved capabilities and experiences for end users. This creates a challenge to encode enough knowledge to cross the threshold for a broad application. It also creates an opportunity to establish a framework for introducing new knowledge through automated and community-based approaches.

While the challenges are formidable, the opportunities are great. Natural language search has the potential to transform and improve all aspects of the search experience: precision, recall, power, usability, presentation and interaction.

We will conclude the talk with a discussion of Powerset, a startup company that is tackling these challenges in an attempt to bring natural language search to the world.

For over fifteen years, Dr. Barney Pell, (Ph.D. Computer science, Cambridge University 1993) has pursued ground breaking technical and commercial innovation in A.I. as a researcher, research manager, business strategist and entrepreneur. He spent 2005 as Entrepreneur in Residence at Mayfield evaluating early to mid-stage IT and knowledge based companies. Before joining Mayfield, Dr. Pell worked for NASA Ames Research Center on two occasions: from 1993-1998 as Project Lead for the Executive component of the prize-winning Remote Agent Experiment; and from 2002-2005 as a Technical Area Manager responsible for research in intelligent agents, software architecture, human-centered computing, search, collaborative knowledge management, distributed databases, information integration, spoken dialog systems, and the semantic web.

Between 1998 and 2002, Dr. Pell worked in technical start-ups serving as Chief Strategist and Vice-President of Business Development at StockMaster.com, a provider of internet-based stock-market analysis tools and later Vice President of Strategy for Whizbang! Labs, a provider of advanced text processing and search engine software. He owns Decision Theory, a research and consulting company specializing in product strategy and business development for applications of advanced computer science.

Last updated:

August 23, 2016