Before you know it

This software will get you the information even before you realise that you need it

 
Published: Tuesday 15 September 1998

-- WHEN it comes to writing reports, British Telecom's (BT's) research engineers have resorted to using Radar to make sure that their output is up-to-date and contains all references to relevant research.

The Radar in question is a clever computer program named after the underdog character in MASH, the television comedy set during the Korean War in a us army field hospital. Like the fictional soldier, the program knows where everything is and starts getting it even before you know you need it.

Radar, a BT-developed Java applet - an embedded computer program - that currently works from within Microsoft's Word software package. The applet scans the sentence surrounding the cursor and works out just what a BT engineer is writing about. It composes search queries on the basis of what it considers important or interesting.

Radar also consults a user's personal profile and adjusts the queries if any preferences in the log are relevant. The search queries are sent off to a batch of computers that launch them onto the Internet or a company database. The results of the search or database queries are compiled and pop up in a small window in Word as the user keeps working. "It's all about bringing in information right where you need it," says Barry Crabtree, one of Radar's developers.

He says that though only 30 per cent of BT staff are using the software, it is already proving to be quite popular, since it is relatively autonomous and teaches itself what the writer is interested in. Radar's testers all work at BT'S laboratories in Martlesham, near Ipswich, UK, and are using it to search the Internet and BT'S own internal network for technical reports on their research areas.

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