Australia: An interdisciplinary team of seven academics has embarked on a three-year, USD 500 000 project to improve how computers decipher geographical descriptions. It is funded in part by the Victoria’s Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ESTA).
The researchers hoped to crowdsource part of the project with a mobile phone game, Tell Us Where. Developed for native web browsers on the iPhone and Android devices, the game was expected to collect a large pool of human-generated place descriptions to be analysed.
Team leader Stephan Winter, Department of Geomatics, University of Melbourne, explained that people often used vernacular or contextual terms that computers could not decipher. “Our current computer systems are very bad at interpreting human place descriptions,” said Winter.
A Google spokesman highlighted a recently introduced “suggest” feature in Google Maps that listed local places of interest while users typed. Users could type “Q” while zoomed into Sydney to find the Queen Victoria Building, for example. Google Maps also allowed users to search for local establishments with terms like “restaurants in” a particular suburb.
However, Winter said the mechanisms behind these search features could be improved, noting that computer systems used approximations for terms like “near” and “in”. “Google Maps is an interesting example,” he said. “It looks good on the surface, but if you look deep down, it is still very primitive.”