Information Cognition (IC): Enabling the Human Cog in the Information Retrieval Machine

Lead Research Organisation: University of Strathclyde
Department Name: Design Manufacture and Engineering Man



This research programme will investigate the feasibility of using visual representations for the secure navigation and search of large, complex, multimedia data sets. It draws upon prior research that shows the human visual system has a powerful ability to recognise and classify objects in 3D environments. To do this the project will create an experimental platform that combines human cognitive abilities with recent advances in design information management, computer graphics and data mining. The resulting system will support the systematic study of how advanced visual interfaces impact on a user's ability to both find individual items and identify patterns, or oddities, within subsets of the data.

The veracity of the project's experimental methodology is ensured through close collaboration with an international research centre supported by a consortium of leading defence contractors (ie Rolls Royce, Boeing etc). This partnership will ensure the project is focused on the challenges faced by the defence industry and can assess its outputs using a realistic bench mark environment.

Planned Impact


Early beneficiaries of the proposed research will be the project partners and collaborators. The user partners, the Glasgow based Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC), and Dstl will benefit from participation in the research and in the definition of their specific information retrieval requirements. They will both be provided with fully documented reports detailing the results of the research, and how they can potentially be incorporated into exiting systems. 'Live' trials of data retrieval will take place with the AFRC, offering early advantage. The exploitation of human cognition into new graphical interfaces will enable them to retrieve information faster, and to add the intuitive intelligence of the human brain to the processing power of current information storage systems. The two collaborating SMEs, ShapeSpace and MaidSafe, both concerned with information retrieval, will benefit through the opportunity to utilise the results in their own products, and the potential to exploit new knowledge and technologies.

Outside of the immediate collaborators, the research will impact AFRC partners in the defence contracting and aerospace industries both of whom have similarly complex information retrieval requirements to the AFRC itself and to Dstl. They will access the new technology through the AFRCs dissemination mechanisms, and through the recently formed HVM Technology Innovation Centre. Wider dissemination of the research will ultimately impact all industrial and service organisations with multiple clients and a requirement to access diverse information sources within both ethically sensitive commercially sensitive environments.

Academic beneficiaries from the research will include those researching in the information management and interface design fields - impact will be ensured through publication of research results in the appropriate journals and conferences.

Lastly, we anticipate there will be a social (and potentially economic) impact of the research to the general public. Rapid, comprehensive, and accurate data retrieval will assist those services (be they the security services or the healthcare system) to respond quickly to any situation where access to complex data is required.

Benefits from the research will be realised within 3 years of the project end. The advantage is that the project draws upon and integrates established technologies and prior research, thus presenting a realistic opportunity for early exploitation.


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Grierson H (2015) Using visual representations for the searching and browsing of large, complex, multimedia data sets in International Journal of Information Management

Description This work examined the human 'cog' within a data visualization system; testing the hypothesis that human beings find the recall and recognition of 2D and 3D shapes and environments so intuitive and effortless that any system for the effective retrieval and use of data should make use of this fact. This first development phase has indicated that the SIZL system does help users search for and identify relationships between documents in large datasets, when compared to a traditional text-based system. A range of quantitative and qualitative analysis methods were used and the key findings are as follows:
The KEY FINDINGS from ANALYSIS of the TIME and ACCURACY of the participants' responses were:

• There does not seem to be a correlation between people's ability in File Manager and their performance with SIZL.
• When data retrieval is the task, File Manager is much faster.
• When the task is about making relationships between files, SIZL can achieve the same accuracy as File Manager in less time - almost half the time.
• SIZL outperformed File Manager on more complex questions, i.e. responses requiring relationships between files and the information.
• When using File Manager participants were getting more right relationships as time went on, however in SIZL the opposite was true. Participants who spent the longest time in SIZL tended to 'get lost' and their accuracy decreased with time.
• People were most enthusiastic about SIZL's multi search facility, and generally preferred the visual layout.
• The participants' most collective complaint was errors in using the system.


• Participants responded highly positively to the multi-search function.
• The majority of participants expressed a preference for the visual layout of the SIZL system.
• Some participants struggled to recover when errors occurred in the system.


• The multi-search function was the most useful and most popular feature of the SIZL system.
• Participants responded positively to the visualization provided by SIZL.
• Participants used the SIZL system to navigate their own problem-solving processes, i.e. the human 'cog'.
• The zoom and timeline functionalities were not used as frequently as expected due to lack of highlighting its importance.


• In correlation with the qualitative data findings, the multi-search function was the most popular feature of the SIZL system.
• The timeline and zoom features were not used readily. This was due partly to not making this feature explicit in its introduction.
• Also mirroring the key findings from the participants' tests, errors in the use of the SIZL software were highlighted as a key issue, but not so much as to affect functionality in testing.

Overall, across all forms of evaluation, the multi-search function proved extremely useful to participants in searching and browsing for information. In addition, participants responded positively to the visualization provided by SIZL.
Exploitation Route Findings and the developed software would be able to support information retrieval in a number of sectors. It was originally designed for the defence industry to examine and make connections between documents.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Construction,Energy,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology,Security and Diplomacy

Title SIZL - Searching for Information in a Zoomed-in Landscape 
Description An experimental platform has been created that combines human cognitive abilities with recent advances in design information management, computer graphics and data mining. The system is database-driven and facilitates the creation of dynamic user interfaces in response to user inputs. It is being developed in the .Net environment using C#, connecting to a MySQL database, using Sphinx searching technology to index and search the system content. The user can interact with the system through direct searching, e.g. key words or document browsing. Relevant documents are extracted by the system and used to generate objects which are then presented to the user through the Graphical User Interface (GUI). The user can refine the GUI by focusing on information that they deem relevant. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact The system provides 3 key elements: 1) A timeline which provides instinctive chronological flexibility consisting of multiple arrays of time-scales - days, hours and minutes. The user can expand or contract the timeline allowing the user to manipulate the volume of displayed documents. 2) A zooming functionality, created by fixing a camera to the 2D x-plane in the 3D environment, facilitates user controlled data convergence. This allows users to zoom in and out of the Z-axis which changes the distance of the camera plane in relation to the displayed objects. The user can control the amount of documents currently on display by the system. Furthermore, it allows the user to focus on clusters of documents that may be of particular interest. 3) The visualisation of information through inter-document relationships. The system database contains a vast range of data which is used by the system to create arrays of objects which have underlying connections. These relationships are used to generate the default GUI. The goal of exploiting the underlying relationships is to allow the user to quickly retrieve information based on whatever knowledge they have relating to the search.