Ency, phone home

Have you ever had to search for an essential piece of information in an enormous pile of data? Have you ever had the feeling that you're looking for a needle in a haystack – sorry, in several reporting platforms - and the information is written in a foreign language by someone from outer space? If it makes you feel any better you're not the only one. At Semanta, we've tried to tackle this problem head-on and our solution, a technology we call „connectors“, approaches the problem through the metadata. How does it work? The answer to that lies with Voyager 1 - let me explain.

Voyager 1 was launched by NASA on September 5, 1977. A space probe, it is the furthest man-made object from Earth (about 15.6 billion km) and the only object originating here that's crossed the heliopause and entered interstellar space.

In the event it should be found by intelligent life forms, NASA decided to add the so-called “Voyager Golden Record” to communicate with them. The record bears a collection of 116 images, natural sounds (Volcanoes, Crickets, Mud Pots, Frogs, Chimpanzees etc.), spoken greetings in 55 languages (including the Czech “Milí přátelé, přejeme vám vše nejlepší” / “Dear Friends, we wish you the best” ), and a 90-minute selection of music from many countries and artists like J.S. Bach, Marty Bloom, Mozart and Stravinsky.

The problem that the NASA scientists faced when they were designing the record however, wasn't what information to include on it (although I've read that the committee met for tens of hours trying to agree on the final shortlist) but how to provide a key or tool that would allow an alien civilisation, with no knowledge of earth or its inhabitants, to unlock the data and read it.  The thing we're interested in, isn’t on the front or inside of the record, but on its back.

 

The back of the golden record

 

„In the upper left-hand corner is an easily recognized drawing of the phonograph record and the stylus carried with it. (…) The information in the upper right-hand portion of the cover is designed to show how pictures are to be constructed from the recorded signals. (…) The drawing in the lower left-hand corner of the cover is the pulsar map previously sent as part of the plaques on Pioneers 10 and 11. It shows the location of the solar system with respect to 14 pulsars, whose precise periods are given…“

What's this got to do with searching for information in a haystack of data? Everything. The whole back side of the record carries information about how to use the data held by the record - it carries self-informative data "above" or "among" (in the Greek, μετά - or to us "meta") the internal data. The record's metadata serves as a tool for unlocking, decoding and reading the record's data. It mediates the data transformation.

In Semanta, the technology we call connectors works in a similar way.

The connectors are a group of information, management and design operations that allow external data transformation, ie, the technology allows externalised data to be transformed into a format/ medium that allows a user to interact with it. This data could come from platforms such as Sybase Power Designer, IBM Cognos, SAP Business Objects, Oracle RDBMS or Teradata and it can be changed into any specifically demanded format.

Similar to Voyager 1, it's about transforming the source data from the golden plate into a form that corresponds with the requirements of the extraterrestrials trying to read it. The output of the Symphony No 5 transformed to a suitable format for an extraterrestrial could, for example, look like this:

 

UFO – a great band from the 70's

 

At Semanta we're used to transforming data from external platforms like Sybase Power Designer models, SAP Business Objects universes etc. into a form that corresponds with our customers' requirements. This is managed by the API (playback in the case of the golden record) and the outputs can look like this:

 

The output from the PowerDesigner connector.

A visual representation of the relationships between data objects retrieved by connectors.

The synchronisation center for matching external reports to your internal data.

Encyclopaedia is an information touchpoint that allows you to access all of your data from "outer space". Connectors take all the definitions, reports, data structures, models etc. from your external platforms and transform them so anyone can quickly understand and find and read the information they are looking for. 

It takes about 18 hours for radio signals to travel from Voyager to Earth - Ency works a lot faster than that. Contact us for further information and let us help you find your way through your own data's universe.

PS:If you’re wondering what else is on the golden record or how far from Earth Voyager is now, you can check it out on this website (http://goldenrecord.org/).