College Student Helps Develop 'Cyberspace Concierge' For Democratic National Convention

August 21, 1997

With more than 25,000 delegates and journalists in Chicago for the 1996 Democratic Convention –many for the first time–who could possibly answer all their questions about the city?

Meet Jay Budzik, 18, an undergraduate computer science major at the University of Chicago.

Budzik–from Winthrop Harbor, Ill.–helped create a “cyberspace concierge” to provide convention delegates with answers to thousands of frequently-asked questions about Chicago and a unique Web-based restaurant guide. Budzik is the only college student on the team of professors and graduate students known as “Info Lab,” the University of Chicago’s Intelligent Information Laboratory.

Budzik, a 1995 graduate of the Illinois Math and Science Academy, helped developed “Q & A,” an intelligent information system that is helping to make the Democratic National Convention the most high-tech political convention ever.

If you want to know the height of the Sears Tower, or why Chicago is really called the Windy City, all you have to do is type your question into “Q & A” and the computer churns through its data base to find the answers to your questions.

To create the “Q & A” data base, the Info Lab compiled answers to thousands of frequently asked questions about Chicago from Chicago Internet users and news groups. Then, using the University’s cutting-edge research in artificial intelligence, Budzik designed computer programs that manipulate data in such a way that “Q & A” acts like a person.

“Artificial intelligence is all about making machines mimic what people do," said Budzik. “My job is to make sure that ‘Q & A’ gives the right answers to the right questions in a way that sounds like a conversation. You don’t just ask it a question and get canned answers–the program is designed to respond uniquely to each person who uses it.

“It sounds hard to do, and it was, but it’s also a lot of fun,” said Budzik.

“Jay is the one of the best seat-of-the-pants programmer we have,” said Info Lab director Kristian Hammond, Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of Chicago. “One of the joys of running the InfoLab is that we are able to attract some of the best college-age students from around the country to work on our projects.”

“The people at the Info Lab are a great crew to work with, and you really couldn’t find a group like this anywhere else in the world except at the University of Chicago,” said Budzik.

Budzik first became interested in computers while attending the Illinois Math and Science Academy. While still in high school, he worked at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., researching the feasibility of support for the World Wide Web. He also designed and helped implement the computer network at Zion-Benton Township High School in Zion, Ill. After coming to Chicago, he worked as a World-Wide Web consultant and computing assistant for the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business.

When he is not working on computers, Budzik is involved in a number of community service groups such as OXFAM/America, which is working to eliminate hunger around the world. His interest in serving the community is rooted in his love of computers.

“Information programming and management is going to play a key role in the future, as more and more people use more complex computer systems,” he said. “As a society, we have to fact the fact that managing information intelligently will be an important social priority, and this is the area where I hope to have an impact as I continue my work and studies at the University of Chicago.”

The University of Chicago formed the Intelligent Information Laboratory to solve problems that are real rather than academic. The Info Lab is dedicated to the discovery of technology that will link people and the machines that serve them.

“Q & A” can be found on the World Wide Web at http://infolab.cs.uchicago.edu/dnc/question

 
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University of Chicago

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