In Search of Intelligent Technology
-- by Jim Forbes
If you open the grammar checker in Microsoft Office 97's Word application, you may be looking at a key component of future applications and even Windows itself. That component is artificial intelligence.
Based on natural language technology, Word's grammar checker works interactively to help you improve the meaning of written documents. When it detects what it perceives as a mistake, it underscores it in green. If you right-click on the section, it offers suggested changes; if you left-click, it implements the change.
This capability uses artificial intelligence and "rules" that work in conjunction with a 300,000-word database hidden in a compressed format within the program. While it's not visible, it's busy diagramming sentences while you work.
For now, Word is the only place you'll find this technology. However, Microsoft intends to extend its use to other applications, according to product manager Laura Yedwab. In fact, Microsoft currently has some 40 developers working on natural language technology.
Microsoft is not the only-or even first-company to be working on products in this field. Fully a decade ago, Symantec introduced an integrated application called Q&A that incorporated flat-file database and word processing- modules. The package also had a feature called Intelligent Assistant, which let you query the database in plain English. Q&A was eventually eclipsed by standalone apps.
Now Symantec is back in the artificial-intelligence arena with new technology expected to appear later this year. Called Bloodhound, it builds on the company's existing "seeker" technology, a Java-based Web mapping tool. Symantec does not plan to release Bloodhound as a product but will instead incorporate it into its antivirus software. Bloodhound has ambitious goals: It is designed to find and analyze viruses on the Web, trick them into activating themselves, then pass the information on to researchers at Symantec.