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The problem

Nowadays, voice portals provide users with a broad variety of information (timetables, news on traffic circulation, weather forecasts, cultural events, etc.), and are experiencing an exponential increment in popularity. Most of the time, the common factor in the sought after information is its dynamism: the world rapidly changes over time, users ask (and pay) for completely fresh information. Gathering and maintaining all the relevant information, and providing users with complete and updated contents are undoubtedly a bottleneck and expensive work for voice portals and web-based information services. Performing these tasks better can mean the difference between their success and failure.

Proposed technology and research objectives

Open Domain Question Answering (QA) is the core technology behind the project. In contrast to the technologies behind today's web search engines, the goal of QA is not to return a list of documents, but the actual sequence of data (i.e. words) which constitutes the answer. The scientific and technological objectives of the project pursue three crucial directions: multilingual open domain QA, user-driven and context-aware QA, and learning technologies for QA. The specific research objectives of the project include state-of-art advancements in the complexity of the questions handled by the system(e.g. how questions); the development of a web-based architecture for cross-language QA (i.e. question in one language, answer in a different language); the realization of real time QA systems for concrete applications; the integration of the temporal and spatial context both for question interpretation and for answer extraction; the development of a robust framework for applying minimally supervised machine learning algorithms to QA tasks; and the integration of mature technologies for automatic speech recognition within the open domain question answering framework.

Integration with existing technologies

The purpose is to demonstrate the viability of the proposed QA solutions through their integration in a concrete application scenario. Such integration will follow four principal directions, related to the exploitation of Semantic Web and Multimodal Interfaces technologies for QA. More precisely we intend to achieve 4 integration objectives related to Web services for QA, Wrapper technology, speech-enabled QA, and multimodal QA. Distributed software architecture will be studied and designed in order both to optimize the communications among the software modules, and to achieve a suitable computational balance among server and client devices. Development tools (e.g. Application Programming Interfaces), possibly compliant with recommendations of International Organizations, such as W3C, will be also developed.

Market potential

There is enormous market potential for achievements in the directions pursued in the QALL-ME project, as the exponential growth of requests to call centres implies. High precision QA services will dramatically reduce the time required of human personnel to provide answers. As a consequence, the ability to automatically address even a small proportion of such information traffic will offer new revenue opportunities for those companies working in telecommunications and in the web-based information services scenario.