"Insufficient data" always irritated Mr. Spock, but it's hardly a problem in today's world of nonstop information, where making sense of it all poses the real challenge. So the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency wants to design software that can piece together disparate data to come up with explanations of why things are happening.

The Active Interpretation of Disparate Alternatives, or AIDA, aims to develop "a multi-hypothesis 'semantic engine' that generates explicit alternative interpretations or meaning of real-world events, situations, and trends based on data obtained from an expansive range of outlets," according to a DARPA news release. "The program aims to create technology capable of aggregating and mapping pieces of information automatically derived from multiple media sources into a common representation or storyline, and then generating and exploring multiple hypotheses about the true nature and implications of events, situations, and trends of interest."

AIDA will assign a confidence level to each piece of data and then generate multiple interpretations by playing with various "variables and probabilities in order to enhance accuracy and resolve ambiguities in line with real-world expectations."

"It is a challenge for those who strive to achieve and maintain an understanding of world affairs that information from each medium is often analyzed independently, without the context provided by information from other media," said Boyan Onyshkevych, a program manager in DARPA's Information Innovation Office. "Often, each independent analysis results in only one interpretation, with alternate interpretations eliminated due to lack of evidence even in the absence of evidence that would contradict those alternatives. When these independent, impoverished analyses are combined, generally late in the analysis process, the result can be a single apparent consensus view that does not reflect a true consensus."