Computer, give me . . .

Here we are on the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise; “Computer, give me a list of the planets with more than 75% of surface covered with water”.  Moments later, the reply comes back.  Far-fetched? Perhaps, at the moment, but a computer scientist at the University of Washington, Oren Etzioni, has suggested that this is where strong investment in natural-language query processing systems would pay off handsomely.  His article in the journal Nature (4 August, 476: 25-26) provides some powerful arguments in favour of experimentation and further research into ways in which searching of electronic and other sources can be radically improved.  Perhaps it will be some years before the voice-controlled search is possible — but major improvements in the way in which searches are conducted would be a step towards improved information management.

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