Information retrieval (IR) is the activity of obtaining information resources relevant to an information need from a collection of information resources. Searches can be based on full-text or other content-based indexing. Information retrieval is the science of searching for information in a document, searching for documents themselves, and also searching for metadata that describe data, and for databases of texts, images or sounds.
Automated information retrieval systems are used to reduce what has been called information overload. An IR systems is a software that provide access to books, journals and other documents, stores them and manages the document. Web search engines are the most visible IR applications.
An information retrieval process begins when a user enters a query into the system. Queries are formal statements of information needs, for example search strings in web search engines. In information retrieval a query does not uniquely identify a single object in the collection. Instead, several objects may match the query, perhaps with different degrees of relevancy.
An object is an entity that is represented by information in a content collection or database. User queries are matched against the database information. However, as opposed to classical SQL queries of a database, in information retrieval the results returned may or may not match the query, so results are typically ranked. This ranking of results is a key difference of information retrieval searching compared to database searching.
Depending on the application the data objects may be, for example, text documents, images, audio,mind maps or videos. Often the documents themselves are not kept or stored directly in the IR system, but are instead represented in the system by document surrogates or metadata.
Most IR systems compute a numeric score on how well each object in the database matches the query, and rank the objects according to this value. The top ranking objects are then shown to the user. The process may then be iterated if the user wishes to refine the query.
there is ... a machine called the Univac ... whereby letters and figures are coded as a pattern of magnetic spots on a long steel tape. By this means the text of a document, preceded by its subject code symbol, ca be recorded ... the machine ... automatically selects and types out those references which have been coded in any desired way at a rate of 120 words a minute
— J. E. Holmstrom, 1948
The idea of using computers to search for relevant pieces of information was popularized in the article As We May Think by Vannevar Bush in 1945. It would appear that Bush was inspired by patents for a 'statistical machine' - filed by Emanuel Goldberg in the 1920s and '30s - that searched for documents stored on film. The first description of a computer searching for information was described by Holmstrom in 1948, detailing an early mention of the Univac computer. Automated information retrieval systems were introduced in the 1950s: one even featured in the 1957 romantic comedy, Desk Set. In the 1960s, the first large information retrieval research group was formed by Gerard Salton at Cornell. By the 1970s several different retrieval techniques had been shown to perform well on small text corpora such as the Cranfield collection (several thousand documents). Large-scale retrieval systems, such as the Lockheed Dialog system, came into use early in the 1970s.
In 1992, the US Department of Defense along with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), cosponsored the Text Retrieval Conference (TREC) as part of the TIPSTER text program. The aim of this was to look into the information retrieval community by supplying the infrastructure that was needed for evaluation of text retrieval methodologies on a very large text collection. This catalyzed research on methods that scale to huge corpora. The introduction of web search engines has boosted the need for very large scale retrieval systems even further.
For effectively retrieving relevant documents by IR strategies, the documents are typically transformed into a suitable representation. Each retrieval strategy incorporates a specific model for its document representation purposes. The picture on the right illustrates the relationship of some common models. In the picture, the models are categorized according to two dimensions: the mathematical basis and the properties of the model.
Probabilistic models treat the process of document retrieval as a probabilistic inference. Similarities are computed as probabilities that a document is relevant for a given query. Probabilistic theorems like the Bayes' theorem are often used in these models.
Feature-based retrieval models view documents as vectors of values of feature functions (or just features) and seek the best way to combine these features into a single relevance score, typically by learning to rank methods. Feature functions are arbitrary functions of document and query, and as such can easily incorporate almost any other retrieval model as just another feature.
Models without term-interdependencies treat different terms/words as independent. This fact is usually represented in vector space models by the orthogonality assumption of term vectors or in probabilistic models by an independency assumption for term variables.
Models with immanent term interdependencies allow a representation of interdependencies between terms. However the degree of the interdependency between two terms is defined by the model itself. It is usually directly or indirectly derived (e.g. by dimensional reduction) from the co-occurrence of those terms in the whole set of documents.
Models with transcendent term interdependencies allow a representation of interdependencies between terms, but they do not allege how the interdependency between two terms is defined. They rely an external source for the degree of interdependency between two terms. (For example, a human or sophisticated algorithms.)
The evaluation of an information retrieval system is the process of assessing how well a system meets the information needs of its users. In general, measurement considers a collection of documents to be searched and a search query. Traditional evaluation metrics, designed for Boolean retrieval or top-k retrieval, include precision and recall. All measures assume a ground truth notion of relevancy: every document is known to be either relevant or non-relevant to a particular query. In practice, queries may be ill-posed and there may be different shades of relevancy.
Virtually all modern evaluation metrics are designed for ranked retrieval without any explicit rank cutoff, taking into account the relative order of the documents retrieved by the search engines and giving more weight to documents returned at higher ranks.
1947: Hans Peter Luhn (research engineer at IBM since 1941) began work on a mechanized punch card-based system for searching chemical compounds.
1950s: Growing concern in the US for a "science gap" with the USSR motivated, encouraged funding and provided a backdrop for mechanized literature searching systems (Allen Kentet al.) and the invention of citation indexing (Eugene Garfield).
1951: Philip Bagley conducted the earliest experiment in computerized document retrieval in a master thesis at MIT.
1955: Allen Kent joined Case Western Reserve University, and eventually became associate director of the Center for Documentation and Communications Research. That same year, Kent and colleagues published a paper in American Documentation describing the precision and recall measures as well as detailing a proposed "framework" for evaluating an IR system which included statistical sampling methods for determining the number of relevant documents not retrieved.
1958: International Conference on Scientific Information Washington DC included consideration of IR systems as a solution to problems identified. See: Proceedings of the International Conference on Scientific Information, 1958 (National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC, 1959)
1959: Hans Peter Luhn published "Auto-encoding of documents for information retrieval."
early 1960s: Gerard Salton began work on IR at Harvard, later moved to Cornell.
1960: Melvin Earl Maron and John Lary Kuhns published "On relevance, probabilistic indexing, and information retrieval" in the Journal of the ACM 7(3):216–244, July 1960.
Cyril W. Cleverdon published early findings of the Cranfield studies, developing a model for IR system evaluation. See: Cyril W. Cleverdon, "Report on the Testing and Analysis of an Investigation into the Comparative Efficiency of Indexing Systems". Cranfield Collection of Aeronautics, Cranfield, England, 1962.
Kent published Information Analysis and Retrieval.
Weinberg report "Science, Government and Information" gave a full articulation of the idea of a "crisis of scientific information." The report was named after Dr. Alvin Weinberg.
Joseph Becker and Robert M. Hayes published text on information retrieval. Becker, Joseph; Hayes, Robert Mayo. Information storage and retrieval: tools, elements, theories. New York, Wiley (1963).
The National Bureau of Standards sponsored a symposium titled "Statistical Association Methods for Mechanized Documentation." Several highly significant papers, including G. Salton's first published reference (we believe) to the SMART system.
National Library of Medicine developed MEDLARS Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System, the first major machine-readable database and batch-retrieval system.
1979: C. J. van Rijsbergen published Information Retrieval (Butterworths). Heavy emphasis on probabilistic models.
1979: Tamas Doszkocs implemented the CITE natural language user interface for MEDLINE at the National Library of Medicine. The CITE system supported free form query input, ranked output and relevance feedback.
1980: First international ACM SIGIR conference, joint with British Computer Society IR group in Cambridge.
1982: Nicholas J. Belkin, Robert N. Oddy, and Helen M. Brooks proposed the ASK (Anomalous State of Knowledge) viewpoint for information retrieval. This was an important concept, though their automated analysis tool proved ultimately disappointing.
1983: Salton (and Michael J. McGill) published Introduction to Modern Information Retrieval (McGraw-Hill), with heavy emphasis on vector models.
1985: David Blair and Bill Maron publish: An Evaluation of Retrieval Effectiveness for a Full-Text Document-Retrieval System
mid-1980s: Efforts to develop end-user versions of commercial IR systems.
1985–1993: Key papers on and experimental systems for visualization interfaces.
^N. Jardine, C.J. van Rijsbergen (December 1971). "The use of hierarchic clustering in information retrieval". Information Storage and Retrieval. 7 (5): 217–240. doi:10.1016/0020-0271(71)90051-9.
^Doszkocs, T.E. & Rapp, B.A. (1979). "Searching MEDLINE in English: a Prototype User Inter-face with Natural Language Query, Ranked Output, and relevance feedback," In: Proceedings of the ASIS Annual Meeting, 16: 131-139.
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