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Senseful AI

Search engine spinout company awarded innovation prize

A newly created business seeking to revolutionise the way that internet search engines work has become the first recipient of the Blavatnik Prize for Innovation, supported by South West focused venture firm QantX.

Senseful AI, which is pioneering a conceptual form of search engine that does not require specific keywords, has been awarded £25,000 to support its commercial development.

The funding will be used to turn the prototype into an initial market ready product and fund customer trials in the medical research information sector – where it is estimated that failed searches could be costing businesses up to $25,000 per employee per year in lost productivity.

Launched this year by Dr William Short, a Lecturer in Classics at the University of Exeter, Senseful AI draws upon cognitive semantics, computational text analysis, and natural language understanding to remove the need for users to guess the correct words when conducting a search.

“The vast majority of search engines are designed for literal keyword matching,” says Dr Short, who is based in the Department of Classics, Ancient History, Theology and Religion. “But people think in terms of concepts, not keywords and this places the burden on users to guess the correct words, which can result in frustration, lost productivity, incomplete or incorrect information, and missed opportunities. This is known as the ‘keyword selection problem’.”

The inspiration for the company spun out of Dr Short’s research, which led to him developing a tool to identify concepts, and relations between concepts, in ancient texts. He soon realised that the model could be applied to search engines, creating a conceptual, semantic approach to information retrieval.

The result is a search engine that uses AI technology to understand the relationships between words. So, for example, if a user performs a search for ‘war’, Senseful AI will provide results that include related words such as ‘conflict’, ‘battle’ or ‘struggle’. And this intelligence goes beyond simply understanding synonyms – it could interpret a search like ‘part of the body’ to be relevant to results that might include ‘arms’, ‘legs’, ‘heart’ and ‘brain’.

“I believe that people’s search experiences — at work, at school, at home, and everywhere in-between — should be empowering, and that the tools they use should help rather than hinder them in finding what’s relevant to them,” added Dr Short. “That’s what we are trying to achieve here – creating a search engine that opens up possibilities, rather than excluding them.”

QantX launched the Blavatnik Prize for Innovation in July with the support of a generous donation from Access Industries, founded by Sir Leonard Blavatnik. The aim of the prize is to enable projects that unlock the commercialisation of scientific and technologic advances. QantX is investing in the South West as the region has been identified as a growing cluster of innovation and entrepreneurship, and it sees significant opportunities to support founders in sectors such as Zero Carbon, Modern Healthcare, and data based solutions.

"The Blavatnik Prize for Innovation is an award that recognises outstanding original thinking that can make a difference to the way the world works,” said Richard Haycock, CEO of QantX. “Senseful AI has the potential to reimagine the way we search for information and brings an intriguing interdisciplinary approach to the challenge. The understanding of the way language works would appear to be light years away from modern cutting edge AI technology, but the two disciplines are being combined in an intriguing way by Dr William Short. He is a worthy recipient of the prize.”

Senseful AI is being supported by the University’s Innovation, Impact and Business division. Dr Neil Hayes, Assistant Director of Enterprise & Innovations Programmes, said: “We are really pleased to see Senseful AI winning this prize. It is well deserved recognition for Bill’s hard work and testament to his qualities as an innovative and dynamic founder. We look forward to working with Senseful AI and QantX to further explore the potential of this exciting technology."

Date: 6 October 2022