|Source:||Pacific Northwest National Lab|
|Date:||5/23/97 Record No.: 10454|
|Contact:|| ThemeMedia Inc.|
Spatial Paradigm for Information Retrieval and Exploration (SPIRE)
--Visualization System Finds Data Fast--
Some of you have seen Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL) presentations about SPIRE, for example at the Electrotechnology Conference in Tampa, April 1996. In September 1996, R&D Magazine selected this technology as one of the 100 most technologically Significant Products of the Year.
ThemeMedia, Inc., a new company, has recently licensed SPIRE for commercial development.
SPIRE is a revolutionary software-based solution to a problem facing professional and casual knowledge workers alike -- information overload. It enables users to make sense of the mountains of text-based digital information bombarding them daily from media sources, on-line services, and the World Wide Web.
Through proprietary text analysis, visualization and interaction techniques, users can rapidly process textual databases and create visual maps describing the thematic contents of thousands of documents.
The result is information shown as 3-D images that seem familiar to the user -- either as stars in the sky or peaks and valleys in a landscape. By interacting with the resulting visualizations, users can explore complex relationships between documents, themes and topics and quickly identify documents which are critical to their analysis.
Uses currently include such applications as intelligence analysis, legal-case preparation and medical case analysis. The technology works with almost any database - word processing files, e-mail messages, patent filings, research papers, legal transcripts, news archives, and even web sites.
(Above text adapted from web site)
News article from web site:
New software manages mountains of information
Steve Alexander / Star Tribune
Picture this: You are flying over an unearthly landscape where the mountain peaks are yellow, the valleys violet and the terrain has labels such as "TWA crash" and "Clinton and Whitewater."
No, this is not a nightmare. The information landscape is created by computer software from a start-up Minneapolis company called ThemeMedia that provides a new way of organizing and looking at computerized data.
Originally developed for federal government spies, the software, called Spire, "visualizes" computer data as "Themescapes" (mountains and valleys) or "Galaxies" to help people make quicker decisions.
"Everyone is overwhelmed with information," said Gary Smaby, a Minneapolis-based technology analyst with the Smaby Group who is chief executive officer of ThemeMedia. "This takes the fire hose and turns it into a soda straw you can drink from."
But there's much more to Spire than pretty pictures. The software actually reads and sorts thousands of documents using a proprietary "algorithm," or computer code, that scans documents for "concepts" rather than words.
What that means is Spire sorts documents into categories without anyone reading them first, and that's something experts say hasn't been possible up to now.
Even today's most sophisticated computer databases require a person to classify information before the database can use it.
That sounds good to Karen Moser, a senior analyst at the Aberdeen Group, a Boston computer industry market research firm.
"I know of no document management vendor whose product could automatically categorize documents without manual or human intervention," Moser said. Current computer technology for classifying documents is based on searching for key words, not concepts, she said.
ThemeMedia licensed the Spire technology from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., which is operated by the Battelle Memorial Institute of Columbus, Ohio, under a contract with the Department of Energy. The laboratory had developed the software for the U.S. intelligence community to help it deal with worldwide information gathering.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had been the focus of U.S. intelligence-gathering operations for decades, spies needed new ways to find information, said Gerald Work, associate laboratory director and a member of the ThemeMedia board of directors along with Smaby and ThemeMedia Chairman John Rollwagen, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Cray Research.
"Suddenly they were faced with the challenge of trying to look all over the world and derive information about a series of events not related to one location or one country. Therefore their intelligence-gathering went from covert sources of their own to open sources of literature -- news reports, scientific journals, popular magazines and transcripts of meetings. And they challenged us to come up with a new way of looking at research and analysis when there was too much information to use the old 'read and discard' method."
In the early 1990s, Work said, U.S. intelligence agencies used Spire to determine whether certain Middle East countries could produce a nuclear bomb. One way to find out was to locate the country that was supplying the nuclear technology. But by using Spire to read thousands of publicly available scientific documents from all over the world and sort them for related concepts, the spies found out in 20 minutes which country was supplying nuclear technology. As a result, they concluded that Middle Eastern nations could indeed build a nuclear bomb, he said.
Now that Spire is being spun off as a commercial product to ThemeMedia, it could affect the way people do research of all kinds, Work said.
"Imagine the impact on a medical researcher interested in particular disease. He or she can scan all the medical literature in the world -- not just about that disease, but about other similar diseases or other treatments -- then see all that data in a landscape-like view."
Smaby said that in military applications versions of the Spire software enabled analysts with three years of experience to evaluate information with the same types of insights as 20-year veterans.
Spire scans documents for concepts, then assigns numerical values to documents that reflect the "theme" of the written material. These numerical values determine the relationships shown in the Themescape mountain fly-over view or the alternative "Galaxies" presentation, in which individual documents are shown as stars in a galaxy. Future versions of the software will automatically classify and organize audio and video clips in the same way this one handles documents, Smaby said.
Initially ThemeMedia will offer to do Spire computer processing for other companies, and later will license customer companies to use the software themselves, Smaby said. Although Spire software now runs only on high-powered Silicon Graphics or Sun Microsystems workstations, by mid-1998 it will operate on high-end personal computers running the Windows NT operating system, he said. ThemeMedia also hopes to license the technology to firms that sell databases.
Smaby said he'll be the CEO only for the start-up phase of ThemeMedia, whose operations and seven employees are located in Richland, Wash. As a start-up, ThemeMedia has raised about $400,000 in private venture capital, will soon seek another $400,000 and by summer may seek an additional $3 million, Smaby said.
Smaby sees the initial users of Spire as "power knowledge professionals" such as Wall Street analysts, product marketers trying to understand trends, advertising executives and newspaper reporters. It also might improve the ability of companies to track news about their competitors, he said. For example, using Spire to scan and display Internet newsgroup discussions of a competitor's product might reveal a growing number of complaints about the product, which would be displayed on the screen as an expanding mountain.
But Moser said the demand for such a product is unknown. "The proof will be in how many users actually do this rather than just think, wow, what a great idea. The concept sounds good, but we don't have proof of viability in the real world, and that will be the key issue for [ThemeMedia]."