Stephen E Arnold: More Search Explaining: Will It Help an Employee Locate an Errant PowerPoint?

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More Search Explaining: Will It Help an Employee Locate an Errant PowerPoint?

“Semantics, Ambiguity, and the role of Probability in NLU” is a search-and-retrieval explainer. After half a century of search explaining, one would think that the technology required to enter a keyword and get a list of documents in which the key word appears would be nailed down. Wrong.

“Search” in 2021 embraces many sub disciplines. These range from explicit index terms like the date of a document to more elusive tags like “sentiment” and “aboutness.” Boolean has been kicked to the curb. Users want to talk to search, at least to Alexa and smartphones. Users want smart software to deliver results without the user having to enter a query. When I worked at Booz, Allen & Hamilton, one of my colleagues (I think his name was Harvey Poppel, the smart person who coined the phrase “paperless office”) suggested that someday a smart system would know when a manager walked into his or her office. The smart software would display what the person needed to know for that day. The idea, I think, was that whist drinking herbal tea, the smart person would read the smart outputs and be more smart when meeting with a client. That was in the late 1970s, and where are we? On Zooms and looking at smartphones. Search is an exercise in frustration, and I think that is why venture firms continue to pour money into ideas, methods, concepts, and demos which have been recycled many times.

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