October 1st was a big day at Cornell. Bill Gates was on campus for the dedication of Bill & Melinda Gates Hall, the new home of Cornell’s Faculty of Computing and Information Science. In his remarks, Gates spoke of the “the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration in advancing computer science”. That’s an idea we like a lot – it’s what made LII possible from the start.
The Gates Hall dedication also gave us an opportunity to catch up a bit with two students we’d worked with last year. Cornell Masters of Engineering (and LII project team) alumnae Deepthi Rajagopalan and Neha Kulkarni had been invited to return to campus to attend the dedication ceremony and present their project. Their team, won the Googliest project award at the BOOM science fair and the faculty-selected departmental M.Eng. project award last year. The project involved the use of advanced natural-language processing techniques to identify definitions in the Code of Federal regulations and determine their scope. It was gratifying to see them receive further distinction for their work.
The project was in many ways a model of interdisciplinary collaboration between engineering students, who researched the performance of several techniques for extracting the definitions, and law students, who produced gold-standard data for the engineering students to use for training and evaluating their software. The underlying purpose is to help people who need to read and understand regulations know which terms in the text they’re reading have been explicitly defined and get access the definitions for those terms.
After a frantic but fruitful search for a year-old project poster, we got a chance to catch up a bit on how we’ve ended up building the CFR definition feature for the web site (for example, at http://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/9/1.1). Deepthi (now at Oracle in San Francisco) and Neha (now at Nomura in New York) hadn’t forgotten the challenges of working with legal text – convoluted sentences, paragraph nesting, enumeration – and had a wealth of experience to share.
Deepthi and Neha are two of more than 30 M.Eng. students in computer science who have worked with LII over the years. This year, M.Eng. students are working on mapping financial concepts and explanatory materials to financial regulations in the CFR, and MPS students are working on the visual presentation of law related to hydrofracking.