In less than a year since it was established, the Center for Natural Language Processing (CNLP) at the School of Information Studies has generated more than $500,000 in research grants from a variety of federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). With an interdisciplinary staff of nine, the center is poised to explore new frontiers and help shape the technology of tomorrow. "When I first started my research on natural language processing, people kept questioning whether the technology would ever be usable," says Elizabeth Liddy G’77, G’88, CNLP director and professor of information studies. "It’s now a core capability. The mission of the center is to understand and advance that capability, to find out what we can do with the technology, and to make it available to the populace."

Natural language processing enables computers to have a human-like understanding of language. Rather than searching for key words and phrases in response to a user’s request, the computer understands the meaning behind the query, which results in more accurate and effective data searches. In addition, the computer understands relationships between seemingly disparate pieces of textual information. The computer then extracts the information, organizes it, and presents it to the user in a simple, concise format.

Liddy and her research team–which includes faculty, research associates, analysts, and graduate students from the School of Information Studies, the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science, and the School of Education–are working on a project called Evidence Extraction and Link Discovery for DARPA. The system can be programmed to search for relationships between people and organizations in material located on the web and in databases, and to compile the information into a new database.

The prototype is based on the banking industry, says Eileen Allen G’90, CNLP senior research analyst and project leader. The system will search texts for information about acquisitions, mergers, companies, and people involved in the industry, and gather important information for analysts. "We then visualize the information on the computer screen in a way that will enable analysts to see links between events, people, and organizations," she says. "Analysts can either view detailed summaries of the information or link to original documents." To do all that, team members must first teach the computer to recognize, for example, that the words "buy," "purchase," and "bought" all mean the same thing. "It’s an exercise in linguistics," says Michelle Monsour, CNLP analyst and graduate student in English education in the School of Education. "We break down documents sentence-by-sentence and figure out the meaning and essence of each sentence." Words, phrases, and relationships are coded into the system, a process Monsour likens to putting together a puzzle.

Liddy says information needs are similar across different fields. "We need information, we need to not be overwhelmed by it, we need to organize it, extract only those things that matter to us, and have it presented in a format we can use," she says.
                                                  —JUDY HOLMES



Ever since December 21, 1988–the day a terrorist bomb killed everyone aboard Pan Am Flight 103–Syracuse University has been a focal point for the victims’ families. When it became apparent that 35 SU students were among the 270 people killed in Lockerbie, Scotland, University officials moved quickly to provide comfort and information to family members, and have since organized gatherings and memorial events. A page on the College of Law’s web site ( /academics /centers/glap/lockerbie.shtml) pays tribute to the students, and details new developments in the case against their alleged killers. So when the U.S. Department of Justice wanted to create a site for the approximately 700 family members monitoring the trial, it turned to the University as a place both familiar and trustworthy to those connected to the case.

"I think the Department of Justice felt the families would be more comfortable if Syracuse hosted the web site, because over the years they have had very positive feelings about everything SU has done in memory of Lockerbie," says Professor Donna Arzt, director of the Center for Global Law and Practice, who created the College of Law’s Lockerbie web page last December. "As a law school, we are in the forefront of using the web."

Because the Department of Justice was assisting Scottish prosecutors with the case–which is being tried in the Netherlands to provide a neutral forum–it could not create the site without a conflict of interest. Some family members had seen Arzt’s page and showed it to the department’s Office for Victims of Crimes, which contacted College of Law Dean Daan Bravemen about creating a similar page just for the families.

The site requires a password for access, and the address is kept private. It contains frequently updated information–direct from the prosecutor’s office–on the criminal trial’s progress. There’s a section where family members can post messages to one another. The site also features sections on the civil cases families have brought against Pan Am and Libya, which harbored the two Libyan suspects after they were identified. There’s also travel information for those who want to attend the trial. "It’s a new use of technology for something this important," Arzt says, comparing the site to the first-ever use of instantaneous translation at the Nuremberg Trials following World War II. "In the future this may become a fairly standard approach when a trial involves a large group of victims’ families, all of whom are interested in following its progress."
                                            —GARY PALLASSINO

The Lockerbie trial web site was designed for victims' family members who may be unfamiliar with using the World Wide Web.

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