Getting to Your Information

Digital Information 2Intelligent Information Retrieval: Whose Intelligence?
By Nicholas J. Belkin

1. What could we mean by intelligent information retrieval?
2. What constitutes an information retrieval system?
3. Where could intelligence be manifest in an information retrieval system?
4. Information retrieval systems as support for interaction with information.

The concept of ‘intelligent’ information retrieval was first mooted in the late 1970s, but had lost currency within the information retrieval community by at least the early 1990s. With the popularity of the concept of ‘intelligent agents’, it appears that the idea of intelligent information retrieval is again in general vogue. In this paper, I attempt to show that the naive concept of intelligent information retrieval, based on the idea of agency, misses the essence of intelligence in the information retrieval system, and will inevitably lead to dysfunctional information retrieval. As a counter-proposal, I suggest that true intelligence in information retrieval resides in appropriate allocation of responsibility amongst all the actors in the information retrieval system, and that intelligent information retrieval will be achieved through effective support of people in their various interactions with information.

1. What could we mean by intelligent information retrieval?

Intelligent information retrieval (IR) has been variously defined by different people, but aconsistent theme has been one of the machine (or program) doing something for the user, or the machine (or program) taking over some functions that previously had to be performed by humans (either user or intermediary). So, for instance, for Belkin et al. 87, an intelligent IR system was one in which the functions of the human intermediary were performed by a pro-gram, interacting with the human user. For Maes 94, on the other hand, intelligent IR is per-formed by a computer program (a so-called intelligent agent), which, acting on (perhaps minimal or even no explicit) instructions from a human user, retrieves and presents information to the user without any other interaction. Croft 87, introducing the Information Processing and Management Special Issue on Artificial Intelligence and Information Retrieval,suggests that intelligent IR is just good IR, meaning that it is inappropriate to ascribe intelligence to computer programs, and also meaning that good IR is that in which the programs (i.e. the representation, comparison and interaction methods implemented in the system) result in effective performance.
In all of these constructions, there is some idea that the intelligence (or goodness) of an intelligent IR system resides in the
built system. Indeed, it is assumed by almost all people who have commented on intelligent IR, that the IR system is
only the built system. In this paper, following Belkin et al. 83 and Belkin 93, I will argue that this assumption is, in itself, erroneous, that it has led to an inappropriate conception of what constitutes IR, and in particular, for our purposes, has misconstrued the nature of intelligence in the IR system. Furthermore, following Bates 90, Belkin and Vickery 85, and Ingwersen 92 I will suggest both that interaction with information is the key to understanding intelligence in IR, and also that a fundamental problem for intelligent IR is how much, and what kind of support to offer users for such interaction.

Intelligent Information Retrieval.pdf


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