A new level of intelligence for the worldwide web

INNOVATION PROFILE/Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI): Information is not knowledge, and knowledge is not wisdom – but the gap is closing, thanks to the pioneering web 3.0 research being done at NUIG

Making sense of the vast amount of data available on the web and other databases today is an increasingly difficult task. For example, if you input the word “Ireland” into the Google search engine you will get no fewer than 265 million results. And if you try to narrow your search down by entering “Ireland holiday” you will get a not much more manageable 145 million results.

The Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) at NUIG is a Science Foundation Ireland-funded Centre for Science, Engineering and Technology (CSET) which was established in 2003 with the aim of making sense of this torrent of information. “Our ultimate goal is to make the world’s knowledge as accessible to us as the knowledge in our brain,” says DERI director Prof Dr Stefan Decker.

DERI has now grown to become the world’s largest semantic web (web 3.0) research institute, and it engages with companies, from start-ups through to multinationals, bringing to bear its expertise in big data, semantics, analytics, data integration, search, sensor middleware and more.

The semantic web is a term coined by web pioneer and DERI advisory board member Tim Berners-Lee to describe the “web of data” that enables machines to understand the semantics, or meaning, of information on the web. It involves the insertion of machine-readable metadata into web pages to give information on how they are related to each other, enabling automated agents (computers) to access the web more intelligently and perform tasks on behalf of users. Berners-Lee has defined the semantic web as “a web of data that can be processed directly and indirectly by machines”.

The problem with the data as it currently exists is that it is information and knowledge embedded in documents

– users have to read through to access. “There are hundreds of millions of documents about Ireland, for example,” says Decker points out. “What we are doing is getting rid of the need to read through these documents by assembling the knowledge. We are creating a web of data that allows for its transformation into knowledge.

“The idea is that you won’t have to read hundreds of documents to educate yourself; you will be able to see immediately how ideas on different topics are interrelated.”

An example of how this might work is in the area of travel planning. If a person is travelling from Galway to Dublin and uses their PC or smartphone to research the trip, they will find that one search is enough to give them all the information they require to organise it. The software used for the search will already know things about the traveller and their preferences so it will not only advise on the best route to Dublin – avoiding tolls if that’s your preference – but will also give information about hotels in a certain price range and area, restaurants that suit taste and pocket, where certain entertainers might be performing, the location of sports clubs and golf courses, and much more besides. One trip, one search.

The applications in the healthcare area are even more profound. Take the example of a patient with diabetes who hasn’t been looking after their diet and suffers a hypoglycaemic episode. In future, they might wear a sensor to monitor their blood- sugar levels. That sensor will be linked to the web and will transmit data to the healthcare system. When a problem arises, the person will get a text message telling them that their blood- sugar levels are low, advising them what to do and informing them that an appointment has been made with their doctor. In this way, the physical world is connecting back into the “linked open data cloud”, making all these connections with different areas to give the user a richer experience.

“Simply knowing when a train is arriving at a station is not very much use,” says Decker. “But the information is far more valuable if you know where the nearest hotels are, what offers they might have, what restaurants are open at that time and so on.”

This focus on the real world finds expression in DERI’s Applied Innovations Group and

its highly focused commercialisation activities. “We have a very clear focus on maximising the economic impact of our research work,” says Marc Mellotte, business development and applied innovations manager with DERI. “We have collaborations with industry at a number of levels. One example might be where a company comes to us and wants to do something specific. We will collaborate with them on a joint project over a period of six, 12 or 18 months to build something that works for that business.”

The institute also has a list of high-level partners that reads like a who’s who of the data industry. These include Avaya, Cisco, Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent, Celtrak, Openlink, and Storm Technologies.

On the other hand, DERI is constantly developing new pieces of technology with commercial potential. “Part of what we do is identify these technologies and commercialise them either through licensing them to an industry partner or the establishment of a spinout company,” says commercialisation manager Patrick Mulrooney. “For example, we presented 17 different technologies at the Enterprise Ireland Big Ideas Showcase in Dublin last October. And these were just a selection of the 30 to 40 technologies we have developed which we believe can be useful to industry.”

One of the DERI inventions shown at the Big Ideas showcase is at the core of a new company called Seevl. This company developed technology that can search the web to provide detailed information on artists and their music to online listeners, and let them discover music they will love. Seevl is already being used in a browser extension of YouTube and, its a growing market; figures show more than 100 million people watching videos and listening to music online within the YouTube VEVO channel.

Looking to the future, Stefan Decker sees enormous commercial potential for DERI’s research. “You will no longer have to read through documents to learn when you are using the internet,” he says. “All the information you need will be there at your fingertips. If you want to open a new shop, for example, all you’ll have to do is enter the location and the type of store you are thinking of and you’ll get all the demographic and other market information you need to make your decision. The iPhone Siri app, which lets you do things just by talking to the phone, is just a shadow of what’s coming. In future, when you get a phone call, the phone will give you all the information you need on the caller in order to answer it properly.”

Big changes are also on the way for DERI. “We are now coming to the end of our CSET funding, and SFI is changing the basis of future funding,” says Mellotte. “Under the new programme economic impact will be given the same emphasis as academic excellence. We very much welcome this change. We believe this gives Irish companies a great opportunity to partner with world-class research institutes such as DERI on the development of new technologies. We are very focused on collaborating with companies to meet their technology development needs, as well as to commercialise our own research outputs. We are anxious to hear from businesses of any size who might be interested in working with us.”

The Irish Times – Monday, March 5, 2012

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