Wolfram Alpha, an Artificial Intelligence engine that will be used to answer factual questions, is one of the most innovative and ambitious projects I’ve come across. It’s not coming out until May, but details are emerging about what will surely be a major player in the future of the web.
From Nova Spivak, who met with Stephen Wolfram to discuss the project:
Where Google is a system for FINDING things that we as a civilization collectively publish, Wolfram Alpha is for ANSWERING questions about what we as a civilization collectively know. It’s the next step in the distribution of knowledge and intelligence around the world — a new leap in the intelligence of our collective “Global Brain.” And like any big next-step, Wolfram Alpha works in a new way — it computes answers instead of just looking them up.
More information from Wolfram’s blog:
And in effect, we can only answer questions that have been literally asked before. We can look things up, but we can’t figure anything new out.
So how can we deal with that? Well, some people have thought the way forward must be to somehow automatically understand the natural language that exists on the web. Perhaps getting the web semantically tagged to make that easier.
But armed with Mathematica and NKS I realized there’s another way: explicitly implement methods and models, as algorithms, and explicitly curate all data so that it is immediately computable.
It’s not easy to do this. Every different kind of method and model—and data—has its own special features and character. But with a mixture of Mathematica and NKS automation, and a lot of human experts, I’m happy to say that we’ve gotten a very long way.
And finally, a HackerNews testimonial:
I had a chance to see this in action a while back. While I, and none of the people I saw this with, were not at all impressed by NKS, this project blew our minds. We watched as it pulled up and manipulated everything from Egyption fraction expansions to historic weather data to the human genome. If the author of this article is exaggerating, it’s not by a whole lot. While Wolfram may not be bringing about the revolution in science he hoped to, don’t forget that he and his crew made Mathematica, and are very capable of creating impressive software.