Corrections or additions?
This article by Bart Jackson was prepared for the February 13,
2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Technology Review: Likeit
Imagine if computers offered you a little human
What a refreshing blessing. "It was that Congresswoman," you
vaguely recall, "Barbara what’s her name. The only one who voted
against giving President Bush the extraordinary powers to conduct
the Taliban War. She said something like `not letting a crisis erode
the Constitution.’ I’d like to hear some comment on that
Until recently, friend, you were out of luck. Don’t try the Wall
Journal Online, or The New York Times, you’ll have to have her full
name spelled exactly right. You might try EBSCO magazine index at
your local library for the phrase, but you’d better have the quotation
pinned down word for word.
So on what netscape lies a little human compassion? Check out "the
world’s premier conservative magazine," National Review Online
(www.National Review.com). The site delivers it all, and even after
second-guessing your fuzzy memory, it can spider briskly across an
array of cross-indexed articles and lay the exact text before your
One blessing of the Web is that it makes room for all every author’s
expertise. The typically 68-page print issue of the National Review
magazine has cramped space for about 10 short articles and a few even
shorter departments. But www.National Review.com allows the editor
to focus dozens of responses on a single issue alone. Every utterance
of William F. Buckley, whether made in his column or not, can be
linked in. When sought, a dozen rebuttals hit the screen denouncing
any statement made on any issue by any Kennedy, living or dead.
The National Review Online takes full advantage of the endless expanse
of cyberspace. It’s very readable "America at War" feature
conveniently slices the events into five day chunks, with dozens of
commentaries and articles covering each item falling within that
period. Contributors have their entire writing history listed in
abstract and full text.
An author’s books are not only mentioned, but linked
into Amazon.com for quick purchase. Special features, like the Pfizer
Forum, can pull in Dr. Frank Lichtenberg’s drug-spending commentary,
the full text of which is not in the Review, but in "The
The National Review Online is less a webzine, than a full resource
library of conservative literature.
Yet the largest library in the world is only as good as its catalog.
Physical libraries use highly trained experts to cross-index each
volume and later find it for use. The National Review’s website
employs Likeit, the search engine developed by Peter Yianilos,
formerly a senior scientist at NEC Research Institute on Independence
Yianilos is one of the computer world’s true prodigies. At age 12,
he would get picked up from school and driven to his job of writing
new data code for a local Florida corporation. By high school, he
was solving problems of speech recognition. Later, armed with a
computer science Ph.D. from Princeton University, Yianilos began a
20-year quest to perfect the Web search engine. Finally, in l998,
Likeit, on its fourth technological generation, was ready to power
massive websites. Yianilos licensed the technology he had worked on
from NEC and founded his own firm, Netrics, at 707 State Road,
Princeton (609-683-4002, www.netrics.com).
Likeit, so named because of its ability to find not only exact items,
but those somewhat like the one requested, is a step forward in the
battle against computer frustration. Previously, most search engines
demanded exact quotations. A few, using a method known as parsing,
would try to second guess typical human errors, in the manner of a
But Netrics’ Likeit engine transcends these into the realm of almost
frightening human-style intuition. Theorizing that the human eye
provided the ideal text-scrutinizing pattern, Yianilos used the
graph matching method. Basically the text of each search query is
treated as a string of characters and matched for similar occurrences
in the database. This allows for as few as four characters in 10 to
match up and still be unearthed. Thus searching EBUTSHIEX will still
net you National Review’s latest commentaries on our president.
Once found, the search item is presented on the sliding scale of the
"Match Strength Indicator." This indicator displays in
highlighted red characters exactly matching your search and fades down
a color scale to dark blue as the match becomes less exact. I was able
to find the holdout voting Congresswoman Barbara Lee with her name all
written in red, yet I was also introduced to conservative Woman’s
Forum leader Barbara Leeden with a name dwindling off to deeper
No new system is without flaws, however. Netrics reports that those
visiting the National Review Online home page with Netscape may
some trouble in getting through to the initial search room. I could
only reach it by typing "Bush" in the keyword box.
"Clinton" afforded me no access.
Netrics’ Likeit is finding acceptance not only among vastly networked
magazines like The National Review Online, with its approximately
4,000 searches monthly, but also with high-traffic E-tail sites. BMG
Direct, the huge online music distributor with monthly hits numbering
in the hundreds of thousands, has selected Netrics to help its
name that tune. Cerner, a national leader in healthcare software,
has also adopted the Likeit engine and now offers it to its clients.
The set-up fee for customers is $2,000. Hosting fees run about $500
a month, but vary based on the amount of data stored and the site’s
traffic. For the big players, the $20,000 Enterprise Central
Unit is available. A server version allows customers to protect their
firewalls by handling the operation themselves.
For many people, the thought of artificial intelligence may appear
frightening. Most of us really never liked Star Trek’s Data. And
that condescend to our errors, correcting our foibles with a more
exact thought, may seem an invasion into that realm which we have
always kept sacred for ourselves. But as for me, I am willing to
right on, if just once I can get that dumb little box to listen up
and bark back the stuff I seek. It would be a very refreshing change.
— Bart Jackson
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