What is an Insight Engine, you might ask? Multimedia artist and Duke Visual Studies professor Bill Seaman's initial idea was to create a serendipitous interface atop a collection of scholarly content. The interface ("engine") would produce unusual search results: it would juxtapose concepts and phrases visually in a way might help a scholar, writer, or artist to make new linguistic and conceptual connections. One idea the project team had played with was a haiku generator ("recombinant poetics"). Another thought was to create a virtual-reality space in which the results would float around the user in 3D.
The Insight Engine project was the focus of a Publishing Makerspace workshop in the Emergence Lab at Duke University on April 5, 2018. (A post about it is way overdue!) True to our design-charrette workshop format, we invited a multi-disciplinary, multi-functional group of participants; they were mostly from Duke but also included Paul Fyfe from NC State University and special guest Roger Malina of MIT's Leonardo and the ArtSciLab at UT Dallas, who started us off with a fascinating talk about the history and future of online multimedia publishing and archiving. I ran the charrette visioning exercise; in quick timed sessions, the group brainstormed and organized creative ideas for the future of the Insight Engine project, ending with a practical discussion of next steps with technologist Matthew Kenney.
The workshop group agreed with Bill that the results could be inspiring; they talked about the "intellectual matchmaking" that it might effect in bringing together ideas from authors and disciplines that are not typically in the same scholarly conversation.
I followed up with Bill about one year later. He valued the encouragement and ideas provided by the workshop; perhaps even more, he valued the very practical advice particularly from Paolo Mangiafico, a scholarly communications strategist with the Duke Libraries, who warned against reinventing already-existing search engines and advised caution about the use of copyrighted content.
One of a few new versions of the project that Bill and his tech team were working on was an engine empty of content that could be applied by users to their own content. The other applications in the works might be beyond my powers of description, but if you'd like to see some mind-blowing multimedia work, check out Bill's website at http://www.billseaman.com/ .