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    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2009
    Really interesting blog post summarizing the Wolfram|Alpha Computational Engine, a search engine that finally promises to actually return useful data points from natural language queries such as "GDP of France". The webcast of the demo has been put up here.

    The important thing to realize is that all of these returned multiple bits of data in readable and usable form. The GDP queries returned lots of variations on that (per captica, etc.). The gene queries gave lots of data and diagrams. The stock queries gave all the other related info, not just the quote. The weather results gave various pages and event forecasts into the future. The stock graphs gave forecasts into the future! The ISS graphed the orbital locations of the space shuttle. It generated a nutrition label for "2 cups of OJ"

    In general it was quite impressive. They've collected a lot of data, normalized it, get live feeds of some info and make it available to simple queries or more involved formulas. If it doesn't know what you mean, it makes and attempt and shows what it didn't understand or other options.

    There were four big areas that they worked on:

    Data curation - they have both free and licensed data, lots from feeds and incorporating them is partially automated and partially done by hand by a domain expert. He said they have "a reasonable start on 90% of a reference library"

    Algorithms and Computations - implemented in 5-6 million lines of mathmatica code.

    Linguistic Analysis - there are no manual or docs. It's different from the general natural language problem because they concentrate on short utterances. That may be harder or easier then the general problem but he's surprised by how useful it already is.

    Automated Presentation - they can compute lots of different graphs and the question is what do you show. They use domain experts to figure this out.
    If you enter "meaning of life" the result 42 comes back. If you enter "42" you don't get the meaning of life or 8*7.

    The engine itself is still in closed beta, but should be open any day now ("Sometime in May.") The pedigree is fairly impressive:

    Stephen Wolfram is the creator of Mathematica, the author of A New Kind of Science, and now the creator of Wolfram|Alpha. He is the founder and CEO of Wolfram Research.

    Jonathan Zittrain is a Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, is a co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society and served as its first executive director from 1997-2000. He is the author of The Future of the Internet--And How to Stop It. Recently launched Herdict Web is his brainchild.
    • CommentAuthorOxbrow
    • CommentTimeApr 28th 2009 edited
    I'm hopeful about this, although disappointed it's only coincidentally named after villains from two Joss Whedon TV series.
  1.  (5697.3)
    Sounds interesting, I suppose, if as a curiosity more than an actually useful tool... I don't know much about computers, so some of this seems like gibberish, to me, but it sounds like they're talking about a search engine with a brain (or a human sense of humor...).

    I did click through to see if Whedon was involved, though...
  2.  (5697.4)
    After further reading, I suppose that it's less of a search engine than it is a kind of "answer machine". Typing in something like "hot pussy" might give you a pie chart on average vaginal temperatures rather than links to sites with women taking off their clothes... Which, as I said before, is much funnier, anyway.