Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Making research obsolete?

Those of you who attended the Florida Coastal School of Law Symposium on the Future of Law Libraries will remember Dan Dabney's Utopian description of a coming search technology that would, among other things, make "researching" prior to writing a brief unnecessary. Instead, it continually searches and delivers information to you as you write.

Well, it's here. Or at least an early version of it.

From today's Resource Shelf, linking to a July 25 story in the Boston Globe:

Watson, software produced by Chicago-based Intellext, does the searching for you. It runs in the background as you work, analyzing your documents and looking for relevant information. The results (clickable links) are continuously delivered in a side panel on your screen. Watson goes to work when you open a Microsoft Office application such as Word or PowerPoint, or the Internet Explorer browser.

Watson is all about search, but it doesn't index information like a search engine. You configure it to use existing free and premium paid search services and websites by setting up ''connectors" in Watson's ''Site Search Wizard." It then uses built-in intelligence to make educated guesses about what you'd want to search for and automatically finds it as you work.

The program was spawned by researchers at Northwestern University, one of them an expert in artificial intelligence. Released in January, Watson has been recently upgraded to version 2.0. It's available as a beta (or test) product.

It also works with Firefox; I installed the free beta version minutes ago. I haven't yet figured out if I can get it to search proprietary databases such as LexisNexis or Westlaw, or other sources like JSTOR, but so far the basic results are impressive. It automatically searches the web (via Yahoo, AltaVista, Dogpile, and MSN Search), News (Yahoo News and Alltheweb News), blogs, (Blogspot and Livejournal), and "Research" (Forrester, Higbeam Research, and Gartner--I'm not familiar with any of them). If you use the Google desktop search tool for your email and desktop files, it can search those too.

I'm going to play with it for a while. So far I haven't noticed a performance hit with Watson running in the background.

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