At last week’s Semantic Technology Conference, I wasn’t able to venture much past our booth this year, but I wanted to highlight some of the big takeaways based on what I did see and what I heard others talking about.
Automatic news monitoring: Undoubtedly we are all “consuming” far more information than even a few years ago. Whatever the subject of our interest, a multitude of sources exist that cover most any aspect of it, and in great detail. Online news outlets, blogs, forums and social media produce a quantity of information that is absolutely unmanageable without the help of technologies that can use the same criteria that a person would use to narrow down the useful and the interesting from everything available.
The ability to understand the meaning of words and relationships between concepts is the basis for a good part of semantic technologies and the progress shown in recent years is remarkable. Regardless of the base of these tools, it is now possible to identify the topics, people, organizations, actions and so on which have contributed to the development of innovative applications in many areas. Among these:
Customized information: Tools that aggregate news and content for users based on their interests (Zite, Flipboard and Pulse) are some of the most popular for consumers. While these are early attempts, I think we will see, thanks to application of new features of semantic technologies (like some presented this year), tools able to provide even more personalized news streams that take into account our daily and weekly activities, both professionally and personal, and capture information relevant to even our most fleeting interests.
Central information stores for minimizing operational risks: Limiting operational risks means making sure that production and distribution are not slowed down by unanticipated events. Such events are not always truly random—in fact, their ‘surprise’ is more due to a failure to detect and identify so-called weak signals—information available on some sources such as news or social, but ignored. Problems with products, information on local labor strikes or financial problems of suppliers are often not hidden, but freely available on social media or local news outlets.
Systems based on semantic technologies allow access to all of the different sources available, in different languages, and can help extract the news that’s important to you with great precision. And because machines don’t get tired, they have no limits in their ability to search and analyze information.
Voice interface: The advent of Siri and Google Voice have given access to voice interfaces to the masses. While these services provide only partial results, they give us a more natural and immediate way to interact with instruments of various types. The addition of semantic technology’s comprehension of natural language for conversion from voice to text offers a new frontier of opportunities, and opens the door to a new generation of applications that will make these current offerings look like the cell phones of the 90s compared to the iPhone.
Customer Care: The same capacity for natural language understanding described above, when applied to the flow of communication between an organization and its customers, has been shown to improve customer satisfaction. Semantic technologies enable automatic responses to questions asked via the site or by SMS from large content repositories. Some implementations have even measured an accuracy of 90% or higher. Systems like these not only improve user experience and optimize the quality of an organization’s customer care, but also offer a large amount of communications data, that through semantic technology, may be further analyzed to improve processes and products.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that these developments that will go on to improve the management of information, will also improve our lives. Almost certainly one or more of the developments from the semantic hackathon contest will go on to make some young hacker very rich, and hopefully, also revolutionize life on this planet.