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If you typed the word “bow” into a search engine, the return results could be about archery equipment, the front of a ship, a show of respect, or tied ribbons. A company called Cognition, based out of Culver City, Calif., has developed Semantic Natural Language Processing to help computers understand the meaning and context of words.

Cognition’s technology, which relies on semantic clues developed over the past 23 years, accounts for ambiguous words, phrases, synonyms, acronyms, and other linguistic snares that would confuse even William Safire.

The system is the only online searcher “that can increase precision and recall at the same time,” says Tad Benson, a vice president at Cognition. “The precision, of course, is finding the exact thing you’re looking for. The recall is finding all of it. So, what happens is that on a statistic keyword-based search engine, like a Google or a Yahoo!, you’ll sacrifice one for the other.”

You can test Cognition’s claims yourself at wikipedia.cognition.com. But Cognition isn’t looking to enter the search-engine business. For now, it’s licensing its software to other applications, such as LexisNexis’s concordance. But the company is eyeing other uses for its semantic skills, such as ad targeting.


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