New York-based semantic search company hakia will today use the Search Engine Strategies Conference to announce that their Ontological Semantic technology, OntoSem, is available for licensing. Illinois-based RiverGlass, Inc. is the first licensee, and will work to enhance their existing real-time analytics solutions with OntoSem.
I spoke to hakia Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Christian F. Hempelmann, and Vice President of Search, Tim McGuinness, last night to learn more.
hakia is one of the more established players in the semantic text querying space, having been founded in 2004. The company recently announced a further injection of $5 million from an existing shareholder, Polish private equity firm Prokom Investments S.A. This took the total shareholder investment in the company to $21 million.
The company relies upon their ability to move beyond the keyword searches of most search engines, to understand the context and the meaning of a whole sentence. As Christian commented, 'text isn't meaning... text has meaning.' A person brings a whole set of prior experiences, expectations and contextual cues to the task of extracting meaning from a given piece of text. Traditionally, computers have been unable to do this and software has been reduced to the task of looking up individual terms in a dictionary of definitions. Christian suggests that the team at hakia have had to teach their computers to understand the meaning of the concepts that lie behind language; their computers know what a table is, not just what the word means. hakia's ontology is language-independent, 'simply reflecting the world as we see it.' The lexicons (dictionaries) that link abstract concepts in the ontology to the words we use to label them currently operate only in English, although other languages are apparently following close behind. Describing the concepts behind 'the world as we see it' may appear a tall order, but Tim assured me that hakia had a 'good general use ontology' across most areas, with more detail provided in certain domains such as medicine and finance where the opportunities were apparent. To the end user, of course, the methods used often don't matter. What does matter is the quality of the result, and here we are still waiting for a clear leader to emerge.
The hakia Labs site describes OntoSem thus;
"Ontological Semantics (OntoSem) is a formal and comprehensive linguistic theory of meaning in natural language. As such, it bears significantly on philosophy of language, mathematical logic, and cognitive science. It is a rapidly growing area of intense academic research and of active practical implementations, of which hakia.com is by far the leading one.
OntoSem offers an advanced methodology and technology for natural language processing, the only one of its kind, so far, to access the full meaning of the text it handles. As such, it is also a set of well-developed and constantly improving resources, including a language-independent ontology of thousands of interrelated concepts; an ontology-based English lexicon of 100,000 word senses, and counting (plus, the lexicons for several other languages under construction); and an ontological parser which 'translates' every sentence of the text into its text meaning representation, approximating the complete understanding of the sentence by the native speaker."
The results of this work have been visible for some time via hakia.com, and both Alex Iskold and Richard MacManus at ReadWriteWeb did excellent jobs describing the user experience there in posts from late 2006 and early 2007 respectively. The site and its capabilities do continue to evolve, so be sure to try it yourself.
With today's announcement, those same capabilities become available for developers (such as those at RiverGlass) to tie tightly into their own applications. hakia.com itself (currently in beta) would appear to remain on the path toward a formal launch as a generic and consumer-facing search engine, so licensing of OntoSem is geared toward companies that wish to develop similar capabilities within more defined niche markets.
Quoting from the hakia press release;
"hakia OntoSem is a modular, extensible, and adaptable toolset for government, business, education and research applications to enable developers to use the meaning of language and not just text string matching for applications, including:
information retrieval, analysis, and distribution text summarization information assurance and security machine translation ontology support terminology standardization supply chain automation"
For developers less willing or able to integrate OntoSem a set of APIs will also be available, enabling them to more easily realise the benefits of leveraging hakia's analytical capabilities.
hakia's capabilities are based upon proprietary technology, and the standards and specifications developed by bodies such as the World Wide Web Consortium (such as the Web Ontology Language, OWL) are not used. Tim assured me that data output from hakia could 'easily be converted to Semantic Web markup' for interchange with other Semantic Web applications, but pointed out that their customers were more interested - for now - in proprietary data formats such as those used by their existing systems.
RiverGlass is the first company to license OntoSem. I have a feeling that they may not be the last.