Monrai Blog

News about Cypher, Semantic Web, Natural Language Processing, and Computational Linguistics

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Semantic Web + Cypher + Ubiquity = My Grandma's Personal Database

The idea for Cypher came to me a few years ago. The vision was vivid and complete, replace my mouse and keyboard for a headset (mic and speakers), allow me to talk to my computer to issue commands and summon "things". I remember drawing an interface for a web browser that had no buttons, and no menu bars, just the content of the web page. Saying a link would click it. I called this embodiment "Lewy", why for I know not, but which later became 'LUI' for Language Understanding Interface, or Linguisitic User Interface. I was young and naive, and abruptly took a sabbatical from college without any idea of what was required to make this real, but one thing I was certain of... if I could imagine it then it's complete possible. The resulting technology and it's industry has since grown by leaps and bounds, and when I was turned on to Ubiquity, I saw the final piece of this vision begining to be set into place. So let me talk about the first two pieces a little.

A Human Language Processor
The first requirment for LUI is a Human Language Processor. In my initial research, a great book called Symbolic Species made it clear to me that there are no short-cuts in NLP, if it's a "simple NL processor" then it's not really an NL processosr, because by definition, Natural Langauge is highly complex. This basically meant that I would need to figure out what processes are taking place in the brain while you're reading the New York Times. The task of NLP is a task in cryptology, thus the name Cypher. After 8 years, we finally have a framework for processing sentences like humans do. This is a 'cry wolf' type of statement, because of the many past promises and ensuing failed attempts of people/companies/instiutions of learning in this space. That's why I don't blog so much, instead, I'd rather spend that time setting up demos and releasing code, then let the work speak for itself, in every sense of that term :) (ok, ok, I'll stop :) So that part done.

A Universal Database
The Jetsons was a huge influence on me as a child. One of George's friends was an AI called RUDI (Referiential Universal Data Index). RUDI seemed to know everything, the entire body of all human knowledge. The WWW is the closest embodiment of RUDI we have today, with Google being the main interface. Cypher (the first piece) is dependent on a subset of human knowledge, called Lingusitic knowledge (i.e. a RUDI for language). The types of questions Cypher would pose to this database are: what is the structure of a noun phrase, does the verb 'marry' take a direct object? A preposition? How does one make the word 'ox' plural... all those language conventions you learned in elementary school. The WWW contains this data, but there is a problem. All the data is in human readable form, and would require an AI to extract it, which puts Cypher in a catch-22 problem. The solution, put all the required linguistic knowledge in a structured database. Done. The next problem is critical mass, most people don't realize this, but the amount of data a 3-year-old child has about language is astronimical!! It's nothing short of a mirical that childern are able to acquire language. The number of rules for combinations, phrase grammar, lexical restrictions, etc are innumerable, a certain critical mass is required for Cypher to work in unrestricted text. Since we don't already have an AI to populate this linguistic database automatically, we will need to someone do it manually. The Wikipedia has shown that a 'crowd-sourcing' approach is viable for this task. The Semantic Web allows a way to facilitate crowd-sourcing on a very large scale. The Semantic Web has been built, and the MetaLanguage Ontology (MLO) is now in it's first official release. So that part done.

Vision Without Action is Dead
So now my computer can accept my plain langauge phrase, ask the Semantic Web for a strategy for processing it, submit a 'coded' version of the post-processed input to the Semantic Web, then get a response (either a set of statements in Semantic Web langauage, or a set of results using Semantic Web URLs). That alone is really fun, and even in playing with the demo, I was able to find some very interesting facts. But remember, the vision has two parts, summon things (i.e. the nouns... done), and the second part was executing my commands automatically, i.e. the verbs, which takes us back to the beginning of this article... enter Ubiquity.

Let's start with a practical example, at the beginnig of this section, I wanted to reference Terrance Decon's book. To do so, I had to:
  1. open a new tab, google "Symbolic Species"
  2. click the link (because Google's result set links are googlfied)
  3. copy the URL from address bar
  4. take a breath
  5. nav back to this tab
  6. select the text for the link
  7. paste the URL
  8. repeat for all other links in article
... and this is 2008! The vision is to be able to summon a resource by saying Symbolic Species or Terrence Deacon's book and have my computer return the Amazon link (or whatever the net-citizens agree is the URL that represents that resource). This idea of 'summon a resource by description' is the piece of the vision that Ubiquity addressed. I wrote a prototype (just follow Ubquity instructions for installing it) which takes a natural langauge phrase (e.g. Terrance Deacon's book), and returns a table containing the list of 'answers'. It's only a "sound check" prototype, it only queries dbpedia for now. The vision for the plugin is to be able to select some text in a page, call a ubiq command like "get this", or alternatively type get Terrance Deacon's book, then have Ubiquity insert the link into the page or editor. The plugin will allow you to do this for anything that can be described, so summoning from your personal dataspace + the global dataspace, things like: my sister's boyfriend's alma mater or my grandmother's birthday or my car's gas milage and in response it inserts the link or text representing that thing.

So that part... in progress....

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