Magazine article Computers in Libraries

The Future of Artificial Intelligence in Your Virtual Libraries

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

The Future of Artificial Intelligence in Your Virtual Libraries

Article excerpt

The idea of artificial intelligence (AI) is fascinating and at the same time full of endless possibilities. It is fascinating to dream of the many features that computers powered by artificial intelligence will offer us in the years to come. This idea of highly advanced computers being able to interact with humans creates significant opportunities for librarians. Imagine all the possibilities that await us in the next 10 years and beyond.

Using this new technology can provide a plethora of resources and services only portrayed before in science fiction stories. Movies such as Blade Runner, Lost in Space, the "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" series, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, and The Time Machine tinker with our imaginations. Perhaps the best example was presented when director Simon Wells shared with us the virtual librarian (Vox) in the movie The Time Machine. Artificial intelligence applications promise to revolutionize the way we see librarianship. At Nova Southeastern University Law Library, I am involved in a pilot project to do just that: We're introducing an artificial intelligence into our Web site to guide patrons in our library. Using our "Virtual Library Assistant," called Page, is our latest effort to improve the services we provide to our patrons. For our library staff, it is a matter of increasing patron accessibility to our resources and enhancing customer service.

Many technology-based tools exist today in our libraries. These tools in some way or another help us to complete our duties faster and more efficiently. From simple software programs such as PowerPoint to more challenging ones such as Flash MX, we benefit from their effectiveness and ability to help us complete our daily library tasks. I believe that the use of innovative technologies such as Al is the logical next step for libraries. It is by assimilating novel technologies that librarians continue to keep themselves abreast of new means to provide better services. A few years ago, the World Wide Web captivated our attention and imagination. Today it continues to provide us with an additional avenue of service. Artificial intelligence applications can also enhance our ability to serve our patrons.

Just what is artificial intelligence and how will this technology help you provide better services? This introductory article will explain what Al is, what it can do, and who the vendors are today.

Learning All About the Technology

Let me give you some background so you can become familiar with the concept of artificial intelligence. John McCarthy, professor of computer science at Stanford University, devised the term in 1955. He describes artificial intelligence as "the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs. It is related to the similar task of using computers to understand human intelligence, but AI does not have to confine itself to methods that are biologically observable." (See http://www.formal.stanford.edu/jmc/whatisai/whatisai.html.) Over the years, scientists have developed computers capable of performing more and more complex tasks. The ability to perform these tasks could be understood as intelligence from a point of view; think about it. If you ask your computer a question and you get a correct response, that is encouraging. If you conduct a conversation with your computer, wouldn't you conclude that the computer must be intelligent? That is the purpose behind AI tec hnology. You will be able to have a conversation with your computer. You will see this "artificial intelligence" guiding you as you go through your Web site. For example, it could give you verbal explanations on how to use the library catalog.

In order to interact with this new technology, you'll have to acquire software programs that will allow you to design and deploy your artificial intelligence or virtual assistant. Most of the software is based on Al principles and natural language processing. …

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