The Representation of Debate as a Basis for Information Storage and Retrieval
Interactive computer networks offer the potential for creating a body of information on any given topic which combines the best available contributions from a large number of users. This paper describes a system for cooperatively structuring and evaluating information through well-specified interactions by many users with a common database. A working version of the system has been implemented and examples of its use are presented. At the heart of the system is a structured representation for debate, in which conclusions are explicitly justified or negated by individual items of evidence. Through debates on the accuracy of information and on aspects of the structures themselves, a large number of users can cooperatively rank all available items of information in terms of significance and relevance to each topic. Individual users can then choose the depth to which they wish to examine these structures for the purposes at hand. The function of this debate is not to arrive at specific conclusions, but rather to collect and order the best available evidence on each topic. By representing the basic structure of each field of knowledge, the system would function at one level as an information retrieval system in which documents are indexed, evaluated and ranked in the context of each topic of inquiry. At a deeper level, the system would encode knowledge in the structure of the debates themselves. This use of an interactive system for structuring information offers many further opportunities for improving the accuracy, currency, and accessibility of information.