Minority Report-Style 'Discovery Informatics' At Purdue University

In Minority Report, Tom Cruise plays a detective who uses an immersive computer environment to solve crimes. The 'data CAVE' (Configurable Automatic Virtual Environment) brings together information from disparate souces, making it easier for detectives to see patterns and perpetrators. The film is based on Philip K. Dick's remarkable 1956 short story of the same name; in the story, the Precrime analytical wing stands by to interpret the fevered words of the three precogs (from "precognitive") who see into the future.

(Minority Report interface from the movie)

Purdue University researchers are developing a visual display environment with high-performance computers and artificial intelligence software, with interactive features similar to the display Tom Cruise works with in the film. The new 'data CAVE' takes a new approach to working with large volumes of data. James Caruthers, professor of chemical engineering at Purdue, explains:

"Instead of mining for a nugget of gold [data-mining], knowledge discovery is more like sifting through a warehouse filled with small gears, levers, etc., none of which is particularly valuable by itself. After appropriate assembly, however, a Rolex watch emerges from the disparate parts."

(From Knowledge Discovery at Purdue)

Chemical engineers are able to take huge amounts of data and turn the information into interactive images. They are able to approach the research process in a new and more efficient way. Dr. Venkat Venkatasubramanian explains:

"What we are talking about is an advanced method for product design. The product design problem is this: I want some material that would have the following mechanical, chemical, electrical properties and so on.

"I know what properties I want in order to get my job done, but I don't know what material, what molecular combinations, will give me that. It is a bit like 'Jeopardy.' You know the answer, but you are looking for the question."

Scientists face a new challenge in dealing with the flood of data that results from hundreds or thousands of experiments that are conducted simultaneously. The Purdue team's approach is designed to work with the voluminous results of this "high-throughput" experimentation.

The new approach, called "discovery informatics," enables researchers to test out new theories and see how well their ideas work in real-time using a 3D display. Data is visualized on a 3D 12'x7' display. This allows scientists to see an entire problem, including chemical and atomic structures, graphs and charts.

Discovery informatics depends on a two-part repeating cycle made up of a "forward model" and an "inverse process" and two types of artificial intelligence software: hybrid neural networks and genetic algorithms.

It will be tested in a new Center for Catalyst Design; catalysts account for billions of dollars in annual business revenues - even slight improvments can result in significant increases in profits.

For recent advances in computer-aided data mining techniques, see Data Mining In Three Dimensions. Read more about how discovery informatics goes beyond data-mining; learn more about CAVEs.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 10/20/2004)

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