Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo


Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

{ action.text }

Spies Like Us

Search engines find keywords in mountains of information. But suppose you need – really need – to look for what data miners call “roles and relationships”: who’s doing what, with whom, where, when, and how? For answers, the CIA is turning to a Palo Alto, CA-based startup called Attensity whose linguistics-based software extracts that kind of information from e-mail, electronic message boards, and other free-form text. David Bean is Attensity’s cofounder and CTO.

How do linguistics geeks end up doing spook work?
A couple of months after September 11, the CIA’s venture capital office, In-Q-Tel, called us and said, “We hear you can extract roles and relationships from unstructured text.” We said, “Yes, we’re working on it.” They ended up as our lead investor.

You’ve also got Whirlpool and General Motors as clients. What’s in it for them?
We can deal with input that is noisy – run-on sentences, fragments, misspellings. That’s what you typically get in the real world of e-mail and product support. We can comb through it all and pinpoint where customers are having problems.

So have you all got top-secret clearances?
Actually not. Part of In-Q-Tel’s purpose is to work with companies that are not typical players with the government. We give them the software and teach them how to use it, and then they go and do things they don’t tell us about.

0 comments about this story. Start the discussion »

Tagged: Business

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives


Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me