“We don’t want you to know what everyone else knows”
YossarianLives, named after the anti-hero of Catch-22, doesn’t tell you what everyone else knows – it seeks to creatively generate new knowledge.
TYPING “love” into Google, I find the Wikipedia entry, a “relationship calculator” and Lovefilm, a DVD rental service. Doing the same in YossarianLives, a new search engine due to launch this year, I might receive quite different results: “river”, “sleep” and “prison”. Its creators claim YossarianLives is a metaphorical search engine, designed to spark creativity by returning disparate but conceptually related terms. So the results perhaps make sense if you accept that love can ebb and flow, provide rejuvenating comfort or just make you feel trapped.
“Today’s internet search tells us what the world already knows,” explains the CEO of YossarianLives, J. Paul Neeley. “We don’t want you to know what everyone else knows, we want you to generate new knowledge.” He says that metaphors help us see existing concepts in a new way and create innovative ideas. For example, using a Formula 1 pit crew as a metaphor for doctors in an emergency room has helped improve medical procedures. YossarianLives aims to create new metaphors for designers, artists, writers or even scientists.
The name is derived from the anti-hero of the novel Catch-22, as the company wants to solve the catch-22 of existing search engines, which they say help us to access current knowledge but also harm us by reinforcing that knowledge above all else.
Neeley won’t reveal exactly how the engine works, but says they aren’t directly teaching the system any metaphors. Instead, they are using statistical natural-language processing techniques similar to those employed by Google and other search engines. These methods map out the relationship between words, putting closely related concepts such as “dog” and “bone” near to each other while placing unrelated terms such as “dog” and “ironing board” further apart. While a regular search engine typically returns the nearest terms, Neeley says YossarianLives looks for words that are further away but still share a linking conceptual structure.
The search engine’s success depends on divining such connections. Phil Blunsom, a researcher in computational linguistics at the University of Oxford, is sceptical. “Detecting metaphors is pretty difficult in itself, mapping between them is very difficult, and to do this with enough accuracy to be usable seems a bit hopeful,” he says.
One version of the search engine creates a list of words based on an internet search, but only returns a single image representing one of those words, after searching for appropriately tagged photos on Flickr.
The results can be ambiguous.
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