The Flexible Query-Answering Systems area, which we aim to define, is seen as cross-disciplinary, in the sense that it focuses on one important problem, drawing upon different fields of research such as knowledge representation, databases, information retrieval, user interfaces, natural language, uncertainty handling, and non-standard logics.
FQAS is related to enhancements of inquiring or query-answering systems into intelligent or flexible systems. The emphasis is on problems in users posing queries and systems producing answers. This becomes more and more relevant as the amount of information available from local or distributed information bases increases. In demand are advanced means of accessing available information, such as interfaces and system functionality that appears both easy to use and flexible in answering the users' needs, in other words systems, with flexibility in both querying and answering. A query-answering system often replaces a human with expertise in the domain of interest, thus it is important, from the user's point of view, to compare the system and the human expert as alternative means for accessing information. Typically, the qualified and co-operative human information intermediary attempts to interpret also incorrectly posed questions and tries to compose an answer not necessarily reflecting precisely what is directly referred to by the question, but rather reflecting what the intermediary understands to be the intention with the question. In building query-answering systems we should let inspiration from human skills in co-operative behaviour influence our choices in design.
The recent interest in Internet search engines, and the increasing needs for adding quality - in terms of flexibility, performance, precision and recall - to such engines, has further added to the importance of FQAS. Moreover, the current demand for flexible querying into information sources of diverse nature and structure, such as the World Wide Web, and data and knowledge bases, calls for a cross disciplinary approach from computer science and information sciences, as represented by FQAS. We hope that this book will contribute to defining the FQAS area.
We wish to thank all the contributors, the publisher, referees, and the participants and supporters of the two FQAS workshops, in particular the Danish National Science Foundation.
Roskilde, June 1997