A creation that could change the internet forever

The fledgling system, Wolfram Alpha, revealed at Harvard University in the US last week, takes the first approach towards that many believe to be the Internet’s Holy Grail – a global accumulation of information that comprehends and responds to regular language in the same manner a human would.

Even though the system is still new, it has already produced massive interest and excitement with technology experts and internet aficionados.

Computer professionals believe that the new search engine could be an extraordinary leap in the advancement of the internet. Nova Spivack, an internet and computer expert, advised that Wolfram Alpha could prove just as significant as Google. “It is really impressive and significant,” he wrote. “In fact it may be as important for the web (and the world) as Google, but for a different purpose.”

Tom Simpson, of the blog www.convergenceofeverything.com, said: “What are the wider implications exactly? A new paradigm for using computers and the web? Probably. Emerging artificial intelligence and a step towards a self-organizing internet? Possibly… I think this could be big.”

Wolfram Alpha can not only provide a straight answer to queries such as “how high is Mount Everest?”, but it will also produce a organized page of related information – all properly sourced – such as geographical location and nearby towns, and other mountains, complete with charts and graphs.

The real innovation, however, is in its ability to figure information out “on the fly”, according to its British inventor, Dr Stephen Wolfram. If you ask it to compare the height of Mount Everest to the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, it will tell you. Or ask what the weather was like in London on the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, it will cross-check and provide the answer. Ask it about D sharp major, it will play the scale. Type in “10 flips for four heads” and it will determine that you want to get the probability of coin-tossing. If you want to know when the next solar eclipse over Chicago is, or the precise current location of the International Space Station, it can work it out.

Dr. Wolfram, an award-winning physicist who is equations.

“I’ve wanted to make the knowledge we’ve accumulated in our civilization computable,” he said last week. “I was not sure it was possible. I’m a little surprised it worked out so well.”

Dr. Wolfram, 49, who was educated at Eton and had completed his PhD in particle physics by the age of 20, added that the debut of Wolfram Alpha later this month would be just the beginning of the project.

“It will understand what you are talking about,” he said. “We are just at the beginning. I think we’ve got a reasonable start on 90 per cent of the shelves in a typical reference library.”

The engine, which will be free to use, computes by drawing on the knowledge of the internet, as well as private databases. Dr. Wolfram said he predicted that about 1,000 employees would be required to keep its databases current with the latest discoveries and information.

Wolfram Alpha has been designed with professionals and intellectuals in mind, so its knowledge of popular culture is, at the moment, comparatively weak. The term “50 Cent” caused “absolute horror” in tests, for example, because it confused a discussion on currency with the American rap artist. For this reason alone it is unlikely to provide an immediate threat to Google, which is working on a similar type of search engine, a version of which it launched last week.

“We have significant number of popular culture information,” Dr Wolfram said. “In some senses popular culture information is much more shallowly computable, so we can find out who’s related to who and how tall people are. I fully expect we will have masses of popular culture information. These are linguistic horrors because if you put in books and music a lot of the names clash with other ideas.”

He added that to help with that Wolfram Alpha would be utilizing Wikipedia’s popularity index to decide what users were likely to be interested in.

With Google now one of the world’s top brands, worth $100bn, Wolfram Alpha has the ability to become one of the biggest names on the planet.

Dr. Wolfram, however, did not rule out working with Google in the future, as well as Wikipedia. “We’re working to partner with all possible organisations that make sense,” he said. “Search, narrative, news are complementary to what we have. Hopefully there will be some great synergies.”

Just imagine that someday all information, like historical facts, and important statistics will be stored in computers! If this begins a revolutionary change in learning, educators must become leaders now! Teachers need to be the pioneers of the cutting edge technology on the web 2.0 platform! Begin today. Click here to join the fastest growing community of teachers on the web. http://www.teachersweb20lounge.com

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