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Okay, let me try and explain what this great idea is about. S13.gif

First, let's see some basic politics as an introduction to what I will expose later.


First, you should know I'm a fucking social anarchist S2.gif. And as such, I don't like the inherent hierarchy of the powers in place and their ugly scheming to get to the top. I just can't stand politics and corruption. I just can't grasp the concept of lust for power and money. And I can't even begin to understand why someone who has enough money to buy a small country just needs even more.

Let me be clear on these thoughts : I don't want to blow everything up, shoot everyone and make a revolution. Our capitalist system is obviously far from perfect but I believe it can be "mended" in many ways so we achieve more equality in revenues and so a huge part of the world isn't left aside like junk. I would have liked not to quote the obvious here, like the richest 2% owning half the wealth of the planet, or that the cost of the war in Iraq itself would have permitted to buy all the weapons we're so afraid of, or even that it would cost 40 billion $ annually to feed the hungry (the budget of the G8 summit where "important" people discuss of this matter costing $600 million on its own) but I write these small facts here as a memento for some other time.

Keeping that in mind, after spending many years being angry at everything, we need to focus on finding ways to change things and make the system more equal.

Politicians, whether they are left-wing liberal democrats or right-wing conservative republicans, all want the same thing : power. They usually have a short-term vision of things essentially because of their equally short-term mandates. Often laws and amendments get voted to be overruled 1 or 2 presidential mandates later, yielding a brownian-motion-like status quo. Also, these politicians are almost always issued from bourgeoisie and aristocracy, they are formed and taught in high-standard schools whose diplomas always guarantee a successful career. These people are NOT your friends, they are not of your social class and don't know the cost or the difficulties and precarity of life, yet here they are trying to solve your problems they don't have a clue about. They only are theoreticians of life.

Also, it is my intimate conviction that politicians have no real power anymore and don't rule their country as they used to : multi-national corporations do through lobbying and economic pressure. Politicians can only limit the damages caused to their countries by these corporations (when they are willing to do so) by applying mere patches and solving neighborhood-range crises, when they are not altogether at the mercy of such corporations through either economic blackmail or mere corruption.

Politicians have become CEOs of their countries they now run like mere corporations. We're the employees. Revolving doors between government positions and private sector companies work 24-7. Conflicts of interest are now showing blatantly in the open and are part of the system.

Another one of my convictions is that the economic system in place is anti-human in all its forms. I mean it's not in the interest of the market, ever, that people are happy and in good health ! If people were all well fed, all had shelter, all were in good health and were all happy with simple facts of life instead of pursuing "happiness" through consumption, then the market would collapse.

What we need is a way to make the people in place take their job seriously. We need a way to monitor what they are doing, to understand what their agendas really are and what possible conflicts of interest they are in : we need to find a way to make them do the work they were elected for. The "affairs" newspapers sometimes leak are mere accidents, I'm sure there are hundreds of these affairs we never hear of and that's a shame. If we ever had a way to somewhat automatically find relations between people, trace their life and monitor their quotes and achievements then we would have a tool to actually "measure" the honesty and value of these people.

They are, after all, public persons elected by the public. It's only fair to assume they should be accountable to the public !

What's the Relation with Semantic Analysis ?

What I'm proposing here is a tool to help people monitor public persons.

The idea is quite simple really : we need to create a program that automatically analyses all possible documents (newspapers mainly, proceedings, reports, bulletins) that pertain to the public life of public persons and build a huge facts database or FDB. This is not spying on these people but merely collecting data on them through quotations of existing documents.

In the end, the FDB should contain a pretty amazing summary of the career of public people. Also, it should contain very useful information on the relationships and collaboration between people. And when I say people, I also mean corporation CEOs and their companies as well (which are now accountable as moral persons according to the law).

Using a simple system of scoring for relationships and public affairs, it should be fairly easy to give "grades" to the public persons, companies or to the facts themselves ranging from "truthful" to "very doubtful". As an example, if we somehow managed to find a connection between a scientific report about the utility of GMOs written by someone who used to work for a company that was at some point commissioned by Monsanto for a project, it would be quite difficult to give a "truthful" grade to that report. There would be a clear conflict of interest here, but it would only be made clear by the program really, an investigation journalist could do that too but that would be a lot of work and journalists are not always free of interest either.

Now you're starting to understand where I'm going.

Program Description

To achieve this, we need to separate the program in several stages :

  1. Bots that will be used to collect and update data from known sources, mainly online newspaper archives and "trusted" sources
  2. A Lexical Analyser that will be used to verify the lexical validity of a text prior feeding it for translation and semantic analysis
  3. A Translator Module that will be used to format the text in a universally readable format so the semantic analyser can be independent of the source language
  4. The Semantic Analyser that will perform the semantic analysis of the language-independent text and that will basically tie facts to names
  5. The Facts Database that will store facts and their relation to people, brands or companies
  6. The Query Engine that will be able to answer user queries and display usable information


The bots will need to be written specifically for the target site to harvest the data as they are provided by the target site. The main code that grabs the text will be the same for all sites but the part that posts requests to the site will have to be specific to the site itself.

Also, if the site changes presentation or access permissions, the bot should handle failures elegantly and warn us that the code needs to be changed to fit the new site requirements.

The bots should also be able to determine if the text is part of a group of texts as newspapers often choose to write several articles on the same topic and these texts should then be marked as treating of the same subject.

NOTE : A text could also very well be inferred from an oral speech translated from a video, the bot thus being responsible for retrieving the video and translating the speech into plain text using a 3rd party software.

Lexical Analyser

This part is language-specific and should be used to verify the validity of the text. It should do some basic checks like syntax and spelling, punctuation and pre-formatting so the text is ready for translation.

Translator Module

This module is language-specific. It's one of the most important parts of the program as it's responsible for translating any sentence of any language into a language-independent symbolic form.

For example, the sentence "The cat ate the mouse" contains :

  • "the cat", a definite subject
  • "ate", a verb at the past tense
  • "the mouse", a definite object or target

Let's put A is the symbol for "cat", B is the symbol for "eat" and C is the symbol for "mouse". Let's also define the "d" subscript for "definite" ("the", as opposed to "a" or "some"). Finally, let's define the "p" subscript for "past" or "preterit".

We could then write the sentence as :

<math>\mathbf{A_d} \to \mathbf{B_p} \to \mathbf{C_d}</math>

That kind of symbolic representation of sentences is valid in any language, all you need is a symbol database for nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, idioms, etc. Automatic contextual translation of texts has made incredible leaps forward these last few years, as shown by Google in their excellent presentation video of Wave where their automatic translation tool performed quite brightly.

The translator module is the first part of the semantic analysis and needs to be carefully written for each language but I believe it's possible to make the code quite reusable so only minor changes need to be made for each language. The symbolic representation of sentences hence obtained could also serve as a base for automatic translation of text.

Semantic Analyser

This module is generic and feeds on the symbolic text representation.

The purpose of this module is to tie actual facts to people (or names or brands). It also needs to understand the context in which the names and facts are quoted.

For example, the sentence "Mr. Harrison, a research director at Bell (Connecticut) for 15 years, told us that (...)" is the typical kind of sentence we would like to store in the database as it ties a subject (Mr. Harrison) to a company (Bell in Connecticut). It also gives the man's position (research director) and an approximate time frame (15 years starting from the date of the article) during which he has occupied that position.

Analysing the Topic

It will make a massive use of synonyms and lexical fields databases to unroll the style of some reporters into plain understandable prose. For example, if a text or group of texts deals with the trial of some guy, the reporter may have used the entire lexical field pertaining to justice trials like "sued", "affair", "jury", "tribunal", "accusation", "witness", "prosecuted" and so on.

The semantic analyser should be able to statistically deduce the topic of an article or the paragraph of an article by the amount of words belonging to the same lexical field.

Analysing the Subject

To determine the targets or subjects of a text, that is the names of the people/brands/companies involved, the analyser could exploit the generally accepted convention that proper names start with a capital letter. Also, some conventions on pre- or post-fixes on the names can give additional informations. For example, Pr. for professor, PhD for a science doctor, MD for a medical doctor, Mrs. for a married woman and so on.

Special care should be taken to analyse acronyms. The analyser should be trained to usual forms of acronyms introduction in texts as writers, by convention, often start to quote the entire name and later explain they will use the acronym from now on (I did that myself regarding the facts database earlier). For example, an author might write "The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reported earlier this evening (...)" so the analyser should be aware that NASA in parenthesis standing right after a bunch of proper nouns starting with capital letters is actually an acronym and take both acronym and full name as one and same subjects.

The analyser should rely on a names database that it would either use or update according to the fact that the names already exist or have just been encountered for the first time.

Analysing the Location Context

By relying on a places database, the analyser should be able to determine the place where a given event occurred.

Homonyms are treacherous on such matters and context should help separate different places. For example, an article pulled out from a Texan news agency has a strong chance of quoting "Paris, TX" rather than the French Paris.

Analysing the Time Context

As for the when, the analyser can first isolate a time frame by using the date of the article but also a reference time the text could mention. Time stamp signatures are usually quite easy to retrieve and only the attachment of a time stamp to a specific event is difficult depending on the structure of the sentence.

For example, a sentence from an article about the snow storms in the southern states [1] :

"Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport had recorded 12.5 inches by Friday morning."

"Friday morning" obviously being Friday, 12th 2010, the day the article was published. This time stamp can be tied to a quote from the subject named "Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport" which can be retrieved from the names database as being an "airport institution".

Analysing the Relationships

The analyser should also focus on the relationships between subjects within a text or a group of texts to determine alliances and oppositions, like an attorney and a prosecutor opposed in a trial. The analyser, given a specific context, should be able to determine what are the possible relationships between subjects or if different subjects are simply relating concordant/opposed facts on the matter of the text (like for example, several witnesses relating what they saw of an accident).

Increasing Data Accuracy

By examining the possessive forms of sentences, it would be possible to attach parts of a sentence to others as "A belonging to B" or "A being a part of B".

In the sentence "Former member of the Slovakian government Karamoutre said that (...)", we can tag Mr. Karamoutre as "being part of the Slovakian government" at some point in time. Some other texts could certainly provide additional precisions regarding the time frame of his mandate but from that sentence, we can only infer that at the date of the article, Mr. Karamoutre is not part of the government any more.

Also, by carefully exploiting adjectives tied to nouns, it is possible to augment the quality and precision of the data attached to a given subject. The tying of adjectives and adverbs to nouns/verbs should be performed by the translator module and used for data enhancement by the analyser.

Data Aggregation

By gathering facts and data on a given subject, the analyser will aggregate informations pertaining to that subject. A time table of facts and their associated places and topic can then be built and tied to a given subject, providing an automatic resume of his or her life.

Facts Database

The FDB will contain facts.

Facts can be quotes, deeds or events. Attending to a convention is a fact. Saying something is a fact. Dying is also a fact.

Facts should be tied to a single subject (if several subjects share a same fact, then the fact should be duplicated or referenced for each subject).

Facts should also exist in a context (place, time, event).

We should always keep the source text, the source site from which we extracted a fact as well as the author of the text from which we extracted the fact.

Stating these facts S1.gif, the database design should be quite obvious.

Query Engine

The end user will need to perform database queries regarding :

  • A single subject (i.e. people or corporation)
  • A given topic (e.g. "plane crash")
  • A given fact
  • A combination of several subjects, facts or topics (e.g. "Monsanto GMO Report SomeGuy'sName")
  • A possible relationship between subjects

Search by Subject

The search by subject, after disambiguation, should return a clean presentation of the subject's facts that you could order by date, by topic, by fact type (quotation, intervention, presence at a given place, etc.).

This search would be useful to obtain a quick resume of someone's public life and public occurrences.

Search by Topic

The search by topic should return all facts treating of that particular topic (e.g. "Trial" or "Plane Crash"). The user being able to later sort out the facts and subjects treating of the topic so he or she can refine the search.

Search by Fact

The search by fact should return the specific fact types as required by the user (e.g. "Quote", "Presence", "Intervention", etc.). This kind of search is quite generic and would certainly return a great number of results so it would be better when used combined with other search methods.

Combined Search

This search is the most essential as it is the one that will isolate a particular subject or group of subjects pertaining to one or several topics and one or several facts.

Relationships Search

This search is undoubtedly the most interesting regarding the FDB as it will be able to extract intricate relationships between people up to a specified number of indirections. Indeed, after a given level of indirection, search results become quite irrelevant for the same reason as the "6 degrees connection paradigm" stating that anyone is related to any other person through at most 6 other people.

Knowing that a given CEO left a company to join the government and later produced a document favoring his former company IS interesting.

Knowing that a serial killer was formerly employed as a gardener by a man who is the senator of Texas's second cousin IS NOT interesting.

Guided Learning

In both the Translator and Semantic Analyser modules, care should be taken to make the modules easily asking questions for disambiguation if some informations are below a given "certainty threshold".

Especially when referring to databases to avoid homonyms and stuff, and to guide its learning.

What's Next ?