An Interview with Luca Scagliarini
Expert System has a strong customer base in Europe and is now winning engagements in North America. The executive responsible for Expert Systems's increasing presence is Luca Scagliarini. Expert System offers a system that supports sophisticated content processing, natural language search, and conceptual search. The company's technology offers functionality usually assocaited with specialized vendors. The firm's have sidestepped the sluggish performance of some content processing systems. The company exhibited at the December 2-5, 2008, International Online Show, where I spoke with him about Expert System and its technology.
What's the history of your firm? Why are you in Bologna?
Expert System headquarters is in Modena, Italy—a few miles west of Bologna—because it is the home-town of the three founders. Entrepreneurship and innovation are in the DNA of Modena’s people. It is suffice to say that in a county of 500,000 people, there are more than 60,000 companies of different sizes. The area is also an incredible example of creativity and innovation. For example, 30 miles outside of Modena one can find the best brands in the car and motorcycle industry: Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Ducati have all started in this area. Motivated by the worldwide success and leadership of many companies in this area, our founders decided to aggregate local talent in the software industry and start a company that could compete worldwide in addressing the issue of unstructured information management.
What is the major content processing problem your system solves?
Our technology (COGITO®) enables conceptual and natural language-based search and provides higher precision and recall in automatic categorization and concept extraction compared to traditional keyword, statistic or shallow linguistic based technologies.
This higher level of understanding of the text enables users to search by meaning (i.e. search for stock intended as share vs. stock intended as broth), through natural language question, via “faceted search” by tagging and categorizing each document analyzed.
The system automatically extracts a very rich set of entities (named and not*) and relationships between entities, starting from logical ones (subjects and objects) to semantic ones (thanks to the semantic disambiguation), and like roles and attributes, family relations and much more. It understands sentence structure as a human would, understanding the tone, context, slang and major brand names.
The engine is very fast and can analyze about 120KB of text per second on a recent Xeon or Opteron processor, returning all the information listed above. Precision and recall for named entities are higher than other systems like Open Calais (in particular for heuristic entities) while semantic disambiguation precision is higher than 80% for any document of any domain.
* Entities extracted: Anniversary, Address, Animal, City, Company, Continent, Country, Currency, Date, Device, Email Address, Entertainment Award, Event, Facility, Fax Number, Food, Holiday, Market Index, Medical Condition, Medical Treatment, Month, Measure, Natural Disaster, Natural Feature, Operating System, Organization, Percent, Person, Phone Number, Plants, Programming Language, State, Sports Event, Sports League, SSN, Time, Tool, URL, Vehicle, Year
What is the basis of your firm's technical approach?
Cogito performs a deep analysis of any document returning a rich and complete set of information, including:
- Complete part-of-speech tagging
- Full sentence analysis (subjects, objects, verbal and nominal predicates, complements; main and secondary clauses)
- Entity recognition
- Full word sense disambiguation (every word is tagged with its meaning taken from the most complete semantic net available on the market 350,000 concepts and 2.8 million relationships )
- Other info (relevant elements, themes, relations... ).
Can you give me an example of your system in action? You don't have to mention a company name, but I am interested in what the problem was and what your system delivered to the customer?
A major mobile handheld manufacturer uses our technology to address the issue of supporting new users in learning how to use the device. The objective was to reduce the return rate of the device AND to reduce the customer support costs. This natural language-based solution leverages our semantic technology to provide their customers with a simple and effective tool to answer questions and how-to queries with consistency and high precision. As of today the system has answered, in only 5 months, more than 4 million questions with more than 87% precision.
One of the biggest car companies in Europe is using our technology to acquire consumer opinions about their brand from a variety online sources. The company wants to support its competitive intelligence process through the automatic categorization of content, and increase the effectiveness of the analysts in monitoring the competitive forces in the sector, and the extraction of consumer sentiment on people, brands, and products.
Expert System is an Italian owned company, right? What's their footprint in the US now? As you look forward what is your goal for the footprint in 2009?
Expert System is an Italian company. In 2008 we established the U.S. subsidiary and started to develop the U.S. by hiring the CEO, a VP for the mobile sector and the technical lead for the U.S. The objective is to keep the development in Italy because of the advantages deriving from a performing, expert and cohesive team and expand the U.S. footprint with new sales and business development resources.
The Expert System software we tested a couple of years ago required a virtual machine to run. What's the best way for a potential customer to see the Expert System in action? What are the benefits your system delivered to the customer?
We now provide access to online demos of our software for Intranet and Internet search and analysis, mobile and natural language search, and sentiment analysis. We also provide access to our Software Developer Kit (SDK) for partners (System Integrators & Software vendors). For our search and analysis platform, we give access to corpuses focused on different sectors and we can index demo corpuses for the domain relevant for the customer.
I recall hearing that your firm has patented technology? Can you provide me with a snapshot of this invention? What's the patent application number? How many patents does your firm have?
COGITO® is our patent-pending technology. It is our seminal patent application for a system to automatically extract relationships between concepts in a text. It is available on the USPTO site US-2008-0275694-A1.
In the OEM sector, Autonomy seems to be the giant with its OEM deals with BEA and the Verity OEM deals. Some of the Verity deals date from the late 1980s. How do you see Expert System fitting into this sector?
We think that keyword search is now a commodity. The increased complexity and amount of information available in any organization will call for a more advanced way to search, and especially to analyze information. We have invested in developing a full SDK to enable the integration of semantic search in any software application. What we see, however, is that the market is still in its initial phase and vendors are just starting to plan to expand their search capability. We think that in the next 6-12 months, more application providers will look to our technology to support their product development plans.
There's quite a bit of turmoil in search. In fact, the last few weeks Alexa (an Amazon company) closed its Web search unit and Lycos Europe (which purchased software
from my partner and me in the mid 1990s) said it would close up shop. What's that mean for Expert System going forward?
We see this as an opportunity because the changes will also open up market opportunities for new approaches to address corporate data access and search issues. Regardless what Google’s Marissa Meyer is saying, this has only started to be resolved.
One trend in enterprise content processing is the shift from results lists to answers. Among the companies in this sector are Relegence (a Time Warner company), Connotate (privately held but backed by Goldman Sachs), and Attivio (a company describing itself as delivering active intelligence). Each of these firms is really in the search business but positioning search as "intelligence". What's Expert System's contributions to this application?
This is one of our major strengths. To deliver an effective question and answer system that works on more than a small set of FAQ, it is very important to have a deep understanding of the text. This is possible only through deep semantic analysis. We have several implementations of our natural language Q&A product recently renamed COGITO Answer. In the next 12 months, we will be investing to expand our footprint worldwide--especially in the U.S. and in the Persian Gulf region to replicate our European success there. In the U.S, we are now supporting customer service operations with natural language Q&A for a government unit of the Department of the Interior and we are one of only 5 semantic partners actively promoted by Oracle.
Google has been a disruptive force in search. In one U.S. agency, different Google resellers have placed search appliances, often at $400,000 a unit in a major U.S. government agency. No single person realized that there were more than $6 million worth of devices. As a result, the project to "fix" search means that Google is the default search system. What are the challenges and opportunities Google presents to Expert System?
Obviously, we cannot even think to compete head to head with Google from a marketing and brand perspective. However, we are already seeing, in the enterprise world, a growing frustration of the limited performance of traditional keyword and statistic search technologies like Google. We believe we can capitalize on this trend by both being an alternative solution and by being an enabler and enhancer of legacy search systems. This is why we invested in making COGITO easy to integrate with the major platforms.
As proof of this trend, as mentioned, a unit of the Department of the Interior chose Expert System to embed semantic technology as a search mechanism when other keyword-based vendors failed to correctly tie together the unit’s strategic plans across the 50 states where conceptual expression varied. Expert System’s semantic technology could easily be geared to correctly reflect all concepts from all states regardless of variations in expressions.
Mobile search is slowly making headway. Some of the push has been because of the iPhone and Google's report that queries on an iPhone are higher than from users with other brands of smartphones? What does Expert System provide for mobile search?
We have gained some good traction in this sector and we will soon make some public announcements to prove that. Our technology manages natural language and enables very precise question and answering capabilities with the flexibility to extract information both from structured and unstructured information. We believe that being able to provide precise answers to question is key in mobile search. All indications suggest we can offer this level of customer service for roughly ½ a penny cost per question asked vs. the device maker and/or network carrier answering a phone call at a $20 cost per call. We are marketing this product with two markets in mind:
- Enterprise employees by offering an easy and convenient way to access unstructured information found in databases, manuals, sales contracts, Intranets and other corporate resources to complete their daily tasks and address their needs, of mobility.
- Consumers by simply and effectively addressing customer help and service with the most accurate answers to any question asked with the least amount of keystrokes via email, Web and mobile devices. Users can type in everyday language, expressing their requests as they would with a friend, and choose the communication channel they prefer: Web site, email, and even mobile devices.
The economic climate is quite weak. How is Expert System adjusting to this global problem? I have heard that you have built out a U.S. office with more than two dozen people? Is that correct?
No, our plans for 2009 are not that aggressive. We are monitoring the situation and planning to continue our expansion organically based on the revenue flow we are foreseeing. However, our increased visibility in the U.S. market has opened the door for some strategic partnerships that we are planning to pursue in the next 12 months.
So, looking forward, what do you see the major trends in search for 2009? Will you give us a suggestion of what's coming from Expert System?
In the pure search arena, we are foreseeing major expansion of conceptual search and natural language-based search. Particularly for the enterprise, this includes a product focused on combining search with discovery, search with analysis, and search with collaboration and workflow. The mobile sector is important and this is where we are planning to dedicate a lot of time. We also see new opportunities in areas that are directly related to search like contextual-based advertising, which will be the second area of focus in the next 12 months.
Organizations looking to implement sophisticated content processing will want to test drive COGITO. The company has a implemented a number of innovative content operations in one, high performance system. The firm's engineers are top notch, and the company is customer centric. You can get more information from the Expert System Web site at www.expertsystem.net .
Stephen E. Arnold, December 18, 2008