Automating Research: Introducing AcademiaOS – A new paradigm in Qualitative Research

November 1, 2023by Thomas Übellacker0

Hey everyone! If you’ve ever dived into academic research, you’ll know the pain. Combing through dozens, if not hundreds, of scholarly articles. Manually coding interview transcripts. Extracting insights from a myriad of case studies. You get the idea—it’s exhausting. But what if we could bring machine learning to the rescue? Specifically, the power of large language models. That’s exactly what I’ve done with AcademiaOS.

Try it yourself:

What’s the Big Idea?

I’ve been tinkering around with a platform that automates and augments tasks usually reserved for human researchers. I’m talking about things like coding interviews, aggregating dimensions for theory-building, and understanding complex relationships between theoretical constructs. The workhorse behind this all? Large language models (LLMs). The goal is to minimize manual effort, speed up the research process, and reduce human bias—without sacrificing quality.

How Does it Work?

AcademiaOS is a web platform that you can easily navigate through your browser. Most of the heavy lifting is done locally, so don’t worry about sending your confidential research data into the ether. And yep, it taps into OpenAI’s API for the LLM magic.

Here’s how it rolls:

  1. Data Ingestion: Upload academic papers, interview transcripts, or whatever text-based PDFs, JSON, or TXT documents you’re working with. If it’s a scanned PDF, no worries—we’ve got OCR capabilities to turn those images into machine-readable text.
  2. Semantic Scholar Integration: If you don’t have your corpus ready, you can even pull in research papers directly from the Semantic Scholar database. The platform then ranks these documents using cosine similarity on LLM-processed vector embeddings of abstracts.
  3. Chunking and Coding: Documents are divided into manageable chunks, and each chunk is processed by an LLM. You get an array of initial codes, what researchers like Gioia and his colleagues would call “first-order concepts.”
  4. Aggregation and Theme Development: These codes are then combined and transformed into second-order themes using another LLM prompt. These themes are later condensed into what are called “aggregate dimensions.”
  5. Theory Crafting: Based on these aggregate dimensions and second-order themes, another LLM prompt crafts a theoretical model that explains how these synthesized concepts relate.
  6. Visualization: Lastly, these theoretical models are turned into easy-to-understand MermaidJS graphs. This way, you can visually grasp the complex relationships between theoretical constructs.

The Tech Behind It

The backbone of AcademiaOS is written in an array of technologies designed for high performance and scalability. For all the NLP tasks, we’re using GPT-3.5. But hey, we aren’t rigid. As the field of large language models evolves, we’re all set to adapt and implement newer and more powerful versions.

And let’s not forget the “agile methodology.” Given how fast-paced the AI field is, we want to be just as dynamic. So we’ll be continuously testing and iterating based on real user feedback. That way, we can fine-tune the system to better meet the needs of the academic community.

What’s Next?

The initial results have been promising, but there’s room for improvement. For instance, we’re exploring the use of vector similarity search to derive nuanced inter-conceptual relationships. And that’s just scratching the surface.

Final Thoughts

I’m incredibly stoked about the potential of AcademiaOS. It represents a radical shift in how academic research, particularly in the realm of social sciences, can be conducted. It’s like putting academia on steroids, but in a good way.

So if you’re a researcher who’s fed up with the manual grind, keep an eye on AcademiaOS. It’s going to be a game-changer.

Until next time, keep innovating! 🚀

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