Twitter Search as a Government case study

In addition to periodic think-pieces here at Shepherd’s Pi, I also contribute a monthly online column over at SIGNAL Magazine on topics relating to intelligence. This month I keyed off a recent discussion I had onstage at the 2015 AFCEA Spring Intelligence Symposium with Elon Musk, particularly a colloquy we had on implications of the emerging cleavage (post-Edward Snowden) between Silicon Valley technology companies and their erstwhile innovation partners, U.S. intelligence agencies.

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Bing vs Google, the quiet semantic war

On Wednesday night I had dinner at a burger joint with four old friends; two work in the intelligence community today on top-secret programs, and two others are technologists in the private sector who have done IC work for years. The five of us share a particular interest besides good burgers: semantic technology.

Oh, we talked about mobile phones (iPhones were whipped out as was my Windows Phone, and apps debated) and cloud storage (they were stunned that Microsoft gives 25 gigabytes of free cloud storage with free Skydrive accounts, compared to the puny 2 gig they’d been using on DropBox).

But we kept returning to semantic web discussions, semantic approaches, semantic software. One of these guys goes back to the DAML days of DARPA fame, the guys on the government side are using semantic software operationally, and we all are firm believers in Our Glorious Semantic Future.

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Gunning the Microsoft Semantic Engine

New Bing Maps Beta with embedded data layers from Twitter and other social feeds, click to enlarge screenshot

There’s a lot of information on the Internet already. Every day, more is added – a lot more. And while there are a concomitant number of new analytic or sense-making tools on the web, they butt up against the fact that the data – the all-important data – is held in multiple places, formats, and platforms.

How are we going to deal with all this? One approach is almost mechanical: ensuring that datasets can be accessed commonly, as in our new Microsoft Dallas platform associated with the Windows Azure cloud platform.  In the government realm, the anticipated reliance on “government-as-a-platform” (a meme popularized by Tim O’Reilly) holds promise in allowing somewhat aggregated datasets, openly accessible.

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Tellme what you want

The future of social computing is in the integration of various services and technologies – but the fun is already available now. Here’s a nifty demo of the integration of cloud computing’s services with increasingly powerful mobile computers (smartphones or netbooks). Developers can take advantage of far more computational power both locally on the device – faster, cheaper processors thanks to Moore’s Law – and computational power residing on networked data centers.  Think of a business or social activity, and thanks to platforms like the iPhone, Android, and the new Windows Phones, “There’s an app for that.” Or there soon will be.

This quick little demo feels like nothing fancy today – but ten, even five years ago it would have seemed like sci-fi. In fact it’s available now, and uses a new Windows Phone, in this case a Samsung Intrepid, making use of Tellme software from Microsoft integrated with Bing Search web services. The demo intregrates some longtime technologies in their state-of-the-art condition today using cloud-services delivery:

  • Speech-to-text
  • GPS-enabled location-based services
  • Web search
  • Voice-enabled dialing
  • Social media (crowdsourced ratings integrated in search results)
  • Hardware UI (a dedicated TellMe button on the Samsung Intrepid phone)

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The promise of mobile augmented reality

Robotvision appMy intention with this blog is always to write medium-length “think-pieces,” about technology, government, or preferably both. I’m working on several (the Jefferson Gov 2.0 piece, the Evil Twin 2.0 piece, and one on “whither the multilingual web”), but they do truly require thought and some free time, so they percolate a bit.

In the meantime, readers like the latest cool demo videos, so for Friday fun here’s another one (watch below or on youTube), which was featured on TechCrunch last night (“Bing comes to the iPhone via Robotvision”), with an augmented reality app for the iPhone which uses Bing Maps and Bing’s real-time data (website here). The company describes itself this way:

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Bad News for the Pithy

Just my luck. Right when I start to push out the pithy quotes, Reader’s Digest announces that it is filing for bankruptcy. I remember the days when everyone would recite the newest pearls from their “Quotable Quotes” column.

My little gems, such as they are, came in two recent interviews, both on the subject of semantic computing and the semantic web. The subject matter in each is somewhat similar – I wasn’t asked so much about future work that Microsoft is doing, but for assessments of different approaches in semantic computing past and present, and where the field is heading.

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Google and Microsoft on Columbus Day

Click to enlargeToday is celebrated in the United States as Columbus Day. I happened to notice that my search engine of choice, at www.Live.com [ed. note: relaunched Bing as of Spring 2009], has a striking image (courtesy of Bettman Corbis archives), as you can see to the left.

As always with the new (improved!) Live Search, there are several hover spots on the page, with pop-up queries about the holiday, “sailing lessons,” Columbus’s trip to the Bahamas, and “the caravel,’ which turns out to be “a small, highly maneuverable, two- or three-masted lateen-rigged ship, created by the Portuguese and used also by them and by the Spanish for long voyages of exploration.”

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