Princeton computer scientists find new way to track spread of ideas

Posted by David Gomez

Computer scientists at Princeton University computer scientists have developed a new way to track the beginning and the spread of ideas. This new method could make it easier to measure how influential some ideas really are. 

Like most new innovations in the age of search engines, the development relies heavily on computer algorithms. These algorithms categorize how language changes over time within a series of documents such as academic papers, news stories, and various other sources of information.

The method should be able to pinpoint which documents are the most influential.

"The point is being able to manage the explosion of information made possible by computers and the Internet," said David Blei, an assistant professor of computer science at Princeton and the lead researcher on the project. "We're trying to make sense of how concepts move around. Maybe you want to know who coined a certain term like 'quark,' or search old news stories to find out where the first 1960s antiwar protest took place.”

The new search process could one day be used by historians, political scientists and other academics to study how ideas begin and how they spread throughout the world.

The search engines from Information czars such as Google and Bing help people sort through the humongous piles of crap lying around on the Web, but their results are based on a questionable mix of criteria. Some of these criteria like the number of links and visitor traffic probably do not reflect the influence that a document truly has.

Academic journals usually determine the impact of a research paper by counting how often it is cited by other papers. Different types of document collections, such as newspapers, patent claims and blog posts have no method for measuring influence. The new algorithm changes this by giving people a way to chart the the history of influential ideas in all types of documents.

Tracing how language changes over time with the Princeton algorithm will allow researchers to see how ideas and theories shape new, well ideas and theories.

Science and mathematics can be used to unlock the secrets of the universe. Here we have another example of how the relationship between information and humans is changing because of science. Some argue that Information technology and human beings are converging.

Using math to trace how information is created and spread throughout the world definitely resembles something groovy from the world of science fiction.