The Rest Of The Skeleton

By Ryan D. Mayfield | Strategy & Product Manager, Global Affairs

“We see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature.”

–Metalogicon, by John of Salisbury (1159 AD), attributing the concept to Bernard of Chartres

Knowledge has a long tail of development. Every critical discovery rests on a number of underlying concepts that are givens today, but were revolutionary at one point in human history. We will continue to build a stronger, safer, and more efficient society by not only continuing our relentless pace, climbing upwards on the shoulders of giants, but by also building out better connections between the skeletons of prior discoveries.

Take a current hot-button topic: autonomous vehicles. The concept that a vehicle can drive itself through traffic with far greater safety and efficiency than any human is challenging long-held beliefs, technical development, and entire industries. It is built on many shoulders: advanced sensors, transportation, and computing, to name a few. It is challenging notions in human-computer interaction, philosophy, and labor economics. Of course, before we could build advanced computer processors to drive the information revolution that will someday soon drive us all to work, our forbearers had to discover how to harvest and harness electricity, and their discovery depended on a basic knowledge of metallurgy.

Each of these distinct steps that we currently recognize include numerous intermediary discoveries, some of which hoisted new fields and others which simply built out the skeleton of larger giants that future generations could then scale. Propelled by digital connectivity and informational awareness, we are raising giants even faster than before, and scrambling to attain even greater heights atop each new development. With each progressive discovery, new doors are opened for scholarship, commercialization, and impact. Government agencies and nonprofits are sponsoring research, cultivating new ideas, and creating new laws and regulations around new concepts — similarly contributing to frames of our modern giants.

As we build our respective pyramids of knowledge, we occasionally look across from our perch atop generations of giants and see a similar concept that has appeared. These may be accidental, like Percy Spencer’s work in RADAR creating the microwave, or intentional, in the case of Margaret Oakley Dayhoff’s fusion of biology and software to create bioinformatics. The Value of European Patents, a 2005 study of European inventors, reported that half of all innovations “arise unexpectedly from research projects undertaken for other purposes, or from activities other than the inventing activity.”

Cross-functional or accidental innovations are unlocked by gazing upon the broader skeletons of past development. Research into social dynamics and psychology improves business functions. Post-conflict reconstruction blends together economic development, civil engineering, cultural studies, and international security. Government regulation rests on the precedent set by prior lawmakers, emerging social and political movements, and the insights provided by summoned or sponsored advisors.

Especially with the pace of innovation, it is challenging to become an expert in one field, let alone multiple fields. At Yewno, we face this each day, as we consider how the varying worlds of academic research (including all of its sub-fields!), publishing, finance, and biomedical sciences interact. We tackle this array of challenges through conceptual search, supported by an adaptive knowledge graph. Through this, our software platform recognizes concepts and their interrelationships in unstructured data (primarily, text). This is similar to how a human engages with insights through reading, by identifying an author’s statements and their interconnections. Then, just as a human is able to contextualize what they read based off of a lifetime of learning and experiences, Yewno takes into account everything it has ever consumed, building out a dynamic knowledge graph, which incorporates over a billion semantic and quantitative relationships across millions of concepts.

One piece of this is what we call the inference engine, helping users spot the most relevant and important insights, across fields. Through Yewno Discover, researchers use a visualization of the inference engine to explore relationships with their original concept. Instead of hunting for the right set of keywords to bound their search, this enables novices to explore the breadth of a field and experts to zero in on the critical interconnections of their chosen topic.


Yewno’s inference engine at work

Yewno’s inference engine at work

Then, as users enter more concepts, they see both inferences off of each independent concept (to help them more precisely identify the bounds of their search) and interconnected concepts (revealing new insights and opportunities to focus in on more specific topics.)


As we pursue interdisciplinary insights and the advancement of knowledge, we build tools and support a diverse array of groups in an effort to stand taller on the shoulders of giants by not forgetting the rest of the skeleton. As explorers, researchers, and innovators, the more we can identify the most relevant insights from other fields, the better we are able to unearth the unexpected, inspire the revolutionary, and solve the most important problems on earth.

EducationJun Ge