Question search engine

Put together on October 29, 2009 12:15 pm by Dimitris

Image by Oberazzi via Flickr

These days, if you think about it, it’s super easy to find the answer to pretty much any question we can think of – perhaps excluding very exotic and obscure issues. A simple search engine query is all it takes. If you allow for asking questions to other individuals (who might be keepers of such exotic information), email and the social media are also relatively simple tools to employ when getting answers.

So if it’s not about having the answers, what is it about?

Often, it’s that we don’t know the questions themselves. Picasso said that “Computers are useless, they can only give you answers”. This holds true for the internet as well – and highlights our information overload in conjunction (and contrast) to our knowledge deficit.

Think, however, of a search engine that would accept keywords or entire passages for input and return interesting questions based on the content submitted. As artificial intelligence is not that advanced yet (right?) to create such questions from scratch, that search engine could at least find relevant questions already posed by other people.

And why would that be useful?

For one thing for educational purposes. Questions can lead a mind along a learning path it never knew existed. In particular, when it comes to life-long learning on specific subjects or to educating oneself on a subject, it would be valuable to have the right questions as guidance.

And that’s the other thing. Questions identify what’s important. They pick out what’s worth thinking about and they allow the rest to be ignored. They generate focus and meaning.

And the best thing is that in our current situation the answers to those questions already exist. The web is teeming with FAQs, mailing lists, newsgroups and papers addressing particular and broad questions. So, questions can act as ‘lenses’ that allow us to change focus and evolve our knowledge from one piece of information to the next.

I wonder if it’d be possible to create a service which when fed with a paragraph from a news article or a blog post, it would identify its main keywords (think the top 3 or 4 words in its tag cloud) and supply right next to that text some relevant questions. These questions could be found by as simple means as querying Google with the main keywords and keeping only sentences with a question mark at the end – just that. Such results would also be accompanied by a link to the text following the question – presumably the answer.

Wouldn’t such a feature provide additional valuable content to existing text?

(By the way, such a service could also be integrated quite well with the ‘paragraph summary’ platform I described in this post)

tags: idea, question



3 Responses to “Question search engine”

  1. tulip on March 8th, 2010 4:25 pm

    You’re right!It sounds funny, but a search engine providing people with questions would be helpful, but only for the sake of learning how to think, so that someone will get used to wanting to know more about a specific subject…On the other hand when someone wants to learn something fast, it would be rational to just stick to the old…

  2. Dimitris on March 8th, 2010 4:37 pm

    Yes, strictly educational purposes aside, a question search engine is appropriate for more long-term goals, not just to look up a piece of info. If someone wanted to write up an in-depth analysis, a report or some kind of detailed exploration of an issue, they would benefit from such a tool – which I admit is perhaps somewhat too early to consider.

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