A mild-mannered British physicist is trying to render Google irrelevant. Stephen Wolfram, the creator of Mathematica, a grandiosely ambitious piece of software, has come up with Wolfram Alpha, a grandiosely ambitious engine of knowledge.
Grandiosely ambitious, and grandiosely inexplicable. Put simply, Wolfram Alpha, due to launch in May, will “compute” answers to questions, where Google and other search engines merely trawl the Web for pages which might hold the answer.
To do this, Wolfram has had a small army of researchers working on systematically analyzing and structuring the corpus of human knowledge so that a computer might be able to answer questions with concrete answers, such as, “How far will the Earth be from the Sun tomorrow?”, a question Google completely fails to answer.
Er, this human-centred extract from Valleywag reminds me of a quote from Wolfram ‘A New Kind of Science’ from 2002 which I used in a short paper I wrote on the fight against terrorism:
“For our everyday experience has led us to expect that an object that looks complicated must have been constructed in a complicated way…(but) at least sometimes such an assumption can be completely wrong…unlike engineering nature operates under no such constraint.”
Hence humans (complex) vs computer algorithms (complicated) alright? The joke is I actually met some guy at Jane’s Information Group and tried to convince him of the power of complexity; I’m not sure he was that impressed but it was good of him to hear me out;-)