Type: Research Highlight

Title: Understanding Natural Language Queries over Relational Databases

Fei Li, H. V. Jagadish

Available in: PDF

Natural language has been the holy grail of query interfacedesigners, but has generally been considered too hard to work with, except in limited specific circumstances. In this paper, we describe the architecture of an interactive natural language query interface for relational databases. Through a carefully limited interaction with the user, we are able to correctly interpret complex natural language queries, in a generic manner across a range of domains. By these means, a logically complex English language sentence is correctly translated into a SQL query, which may include aggregation, nesting, and various types of joins, among other things, and can be evaluated against an RDBMS.We have constructed a system, NaLIR (Natural Language Interface for Relational databases), embodying these ideas. Our experimental assessment, through user studies, demonstrates that NaLIR is good enough to be usable in practice: even naive users are able to specify quite complex ad-hoc queries.


Fei Li - Fei.LiFei Li is a PhD candidate in University of Michigan, advised by Professor H. V. Jagadish. His research interests focus on Database Usability, especially, how to enable non-technical users to compose ad-hoc, logically complex queries. Fei is a recipient of VLDB Best Paper Award (2015) for an NLIDB project. Besides, he is a cofounder of CaiMi, which helps non-technical users query Chinese stock market data. It accumulated 15,000 active users within two weeks.

Hosagrahar JagadishH. V. Jagadish is Bernard A Galler Collegiate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Distinguished Scientist at the Institute for Data Science, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Prior to 1999, he was Head of the Database Research Department at AT&T Labs, Florham Park, NJ.
Professor Jagadish is well known for his broad-ranging research on information management, and has approximately 200 major papers and 37 patents. He is a fellow of the ACM, “The First Society in Computing,” (since 2003) and serves on the board of the Computing Research Association (since 2009). He has been an Associate Editor for the ACM Transactions on Database Systems (1992-1995), Program Chair of the ACM SIGMOD annual conference (1996), Program Chair of the ISMB conference (2005), a trustee of the VLDB (Very Large DataBase) foundation (2004-2009), Founding Editor-in-Chief of the Proceedings of the VLDB Endowment (2008-2014), and Program Chair of the VLDB Conference (2014). Among his many awards, he won the ACM SIGMOD Contributions Award in 2013 and the David E Liddle Research Excellence Award (at the University of Michigan) in 2008.

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