From the information society to the knowledge society

March 26, 2004

Brussels, 25 Mar 2004

The European Commission is funding an Integrated Project that aims to revolutionise the way in which information is stored and accessed, leading to the creation of a knowledge society with the EU in the driving seat.

Over the next three years, the semantically enabled knowledge technologies (SEKT) project will receive 8.33 million euro of funding under the Information Society Technologies (IST) priority of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). The project brings together 12 public and private partners from Germany, Slovenia, Austria, Spain, Switzerland, Bulgaria and the Netherlands, and is coordinated by BT Exact in the UK.

Following the launch of SEKT, a number of reports have highlighted the project's potential to improve the performance of Internet searches, but Dr John Davies, head of next generation web research at BT Exact, told CORDIS News that the project goes much further than this.

'The aim of the project is partly to help people find information on the web or in their company's intranet, but it also aims to improve knowledge sharing, and will help to automate the delivery of relevant knowledge to those who need it,' Dr Davies explained.

Essentially, the project focuses on the method by which electronic information is described or annotated. 'With today's Internet, if you put the term 'Tony Blair' into a search engine you may get a million web pages returned with information on the British Prime Minister, but this is not much use if you are looking for information on an agricultural specialist with the same name,' said Dr Davies.

'With the use of semantic knowledge technologies, a user could choose to receive only results that contain topics on agriculture, or even just those actually written by Tony Blair,' he continued.

In order to have as high an impact as possible, the SEKT project covers a full range of approaches, from basic technological research to the development of specific software tools, the definition and promotion of international standards, and the establishment of case studies to provide practical feedback for the participants.

Much of the basic research will be carried out by the universities that form part of the SEKT consortium. Their work will concentrate on three specific areas: ontology and metadata management, through which new ways of annotating information will provide the foundations for knowledge based searching, human language technology, which will aid the automated extraction of relevant metadata in a number of European languages, and knowledge discovery, which will help to deliver only the most relevant knowledge to users, as well as playing a key role in metadata extraction.

Meanwhile, the industrial partners within SEKT will take the results of this basic research and develop a range of software tools. These could include context aware search engines, knowledge sharing systems, and tools that enable the semi automated extraction of metadata, vital in order to integrate into the semantic web the vast amount of knowledge that already exists. 'We also envisage software agents that will work for you, carrying out searches and delivering only relevant results based on your specific criteria,' Dr Davies added.

The technologies developed during the project will be put to the test during large scale case studies in the UK, Germany and Spain. The aim is to analyse how well these tools work in practice, and feed the lessons learned back into the tool development process.

A final key element of the SEKT project is the development and promotion of international standards and languages for the semantic web which, explains Dr Davies, will help to encourage others to develop further tools, and ensure that such tools are fully integrated and thus contribute to building a global knowledge society. The definition of such standards will be high on the agenda at the first European semantic web symposium, which is being held in Crete from 10 to 12 May.

It is an indication of how important the EU considers the development of the semantic web that a project the size of SEKT forms just one part of a wider grouping of EU funded projects, known as the SDK cluster. 'This is a significant European effort, with a large amount of public money behind it and the participation of some significant European players in the field,' said Dr Davies.

'We are trying to equip European industry for a future of knowledge management. Knowledge workers will be more productive, as they will have the relevant information delivered proactively to them, allowing them to spend more time on their core role, and thus making a significant contribution to European competitiveness,' he concluded.

For further information, please consult the following web addresses:

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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