In 1997, IBM's Deep Blue computer beat chess wizard Gary Kasparov. This year, a computer system developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison achieved something far more complex. It equaled or bested scientists at the complex task of extracting data from scientific publications and placing it in a database that catalogs the results of tens of thousands of individual studies.
"We demonstrated that the system was no worse than people on all the things we measured, and it was better in some categories," says Christopher Ré, who guided the software development for a project while a UW professor of computer science. "That's extremely exciting!"
The development, described in the current issue of PLoS ONE, marks a milestone in the quest to rapidly and precisely summarize, collate and index the vast output of scientists around the globe, says first author Shanan Peters, a professor of geoscience at UW-Madison.