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Peter Cochrane's Blog: Text summarisation in brief

Text tools can cut down on more than just eyestrain...

Written in the bar at my Rome hotel and dispatched to silicon.com via a really expensive and slow wi-fi service.

For the past 15 years I have been using a text summarisation app as a primary efficiency tool. Cutting out boilerplate text and only having to read 10 per cent or less of the material that hits my screen saves so much time.

So during the past year I have been asking audiences all over the planet if they too use text summarisation as an everyday tool. It appears I might be alone in this practice. What is it all about? Given I'm writing this in Rome, let me demonstrate with an appropriate slice of history:

  • Marcellus and Flavius criticise the commoners for celebrating Caesar's recent military defeat of Pompey since they feel it's actually a sad day. During a victory march, a soothsayer warns Caesar to "Beware the Ides of March" (March 15); Caesar ignores him. A race is run, wherein Marc Antony, in the course of competing, touches Caesar's wife Calphurnia in hopes of curing her infertility. During the race, Cassius tries to convince Brutus that Caesar has become too powerful and too popular. Brutus neither agrees nor disagrees. Caesar confers with Antony that he fears Cassius is evil and worth fearing. Casca explains to Brutus and Cassius that shouting they heard was caused by Caesar's thrice refusal of a crown offered to him by Antony (though confusing, the commoners rejoiced that he had refused it for it indicated he is a noble man). At the third offering, Caesar collapsed and foamed at the mouth from epilepsy. Afterwards, Caesar exiled/executed Flavius and Marcellus for pulling scarves off of Caesar's images (statues). In a thunderstorm, Casca meets Cicero and tells him of many ominous and fearful sights, mostly of burning images, he has seen. Cassius then meets Cicero and tells him the storm is a good sign of the evil he and his other cohorts plan to do to Caesar. It seems the senators plan to crown Caesar King, but Cassius aims to prevent it, or else commit suicide. Casca agrees to help Cassius. Cinna informs Cassius that Decius Brutus (actually Decimus), Trebonius, and Metallus Cimber will help them to kill Caesar.

A 25 per cent auto-summary looks like this:

  • During a victory march, a soothsayer warns Caesar to "Beware the Ides of March" (March 15); Caesar ignores him. During the race, Cassius tries to convince Brutus that Caesar has become too powerful and too popular. Caesar confers with Antony that he fears Cassius is evil and worth fearing. Afterwards, Caesar exiled/executed Flavius and Marcellus for pulling scarves off of Caesar's images (statues). Casca agrees to help Cassius. Cinna informs Cassius that Decius Brutus (actually Decimus), Trebonius, and Metallus Cimber will help them to kill Caesar.

While a reduction to 10 per cent looks like this:

  • During a victory march, a soothsayer warns Caesar to "Beware the Ides of March" (March 15); Caesar ignores him. Afterwards, Caesar exiled/executed Flavius and Marcellus for pulling scarves off of Caesar's images (statues). Casca agrees to help Cassius.

Powerful or what? Boiling text down to 10 per cent of the original can still deliver up to 85 per cent of the meaning. Of course, you have to be the judge and decide wisely, but the time saving alone is well worth it - not to mention the reduction in eyestrain.

Now, where can you find the application? Search 'text summariser' on the web and you will find a wide selection of online and downloadable versions, but chances are you already have one hiding on your PC or laptop.

Whatever office application you have, just open a document, select all, and then go to 'Tools' and look for Summarizer or Auto Summarizer or Auto Précis.

Give it a try and you'll find you rapidly become more efficient. However, you should also experiment and become fully aware of the limitations of such tools. They are only as good as the user.

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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