Have you ever wished that there was someone you could call on to refine your research proposals and give you inspirational new ideas about what direction your next scholarly project should take?
Well, your saviour is nearly here. His name? Dr Inventor – a “social network for academics” that aims to bring the scholarly community closer together and, via the use of complex algorithms, to advise academics on how to advance their work.
It is part of a project led by Feng Dong, professor of visual computing at the University of Bedfordshire, who when describing Dr Inventor often sounds as though he is talking about an old colleague rather than a €2.6 million (£2 million) research project backed by the European Commission.
“If I have a new idea, I can use Dr Inventor to tell me how good my idea is,” he told Times Higher Education. “He is going to do this by comparing my idea with all the existing papers that he can find. He can…see how novel it is, and check if anyone has done it already.”
This facility in itself, Professor Dong believes, will make the Dr Inventor website a useful tool for scholars. However, the “inspiration” function that he hopes to build into the platform will take the concept of academics’ collaboration with computers one step further, he said.
“I might have an idea, but he can suggest something new. He might say: ‘This idea is good, but you might be able to change that part.’ He will compare my idea with existing ideas to see if he can find anything new, and then make some suggestions.”
When the project was announced by Bedfordshire in October last year, it was described as “Facebook meets LinkedIn” for academics. However, Professor Dong conceded that this was already a crowded marketplace, and that his website would need to distinguish itself to flourish.
“The EC would not fund us just to make another LinkedIn or ResearchGate,” he explained. “We are using computers to inspire people’s creativity, which…some people don’t believe can be done. That makes our project controversial but worthwhile.”
The website will collect information about a researcher’s areas of interest when they create a Dr Inventor account and then, using a text mining tool, offer them advice on their studies.
“We are going to employ the latest web semantics and visual analytics technology to provide tools that aren’t available in Facebook or LinkedIn,” Professor Dong said, adding that although he hoped to have a prototype ready as soon as possible, it could be a while before any product is available to the general academic community.