Wolfram Alpha: Answering the questions that matter…

Tom James @ 09-03-2009

whyPolymath Stephen Wolfram (famed for AOT Mathematica and his book entitled A New Kind of Science) has been developing a knowledge engine that uses a natural language interface. It’s a bit like Google except:

Where Google is a system for FINDING things that we as a civilization collectively publish, Wolfram Alpha is for COMPUTING answers to 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.

So basically you type in a question in normal language and it should provide an answer, rather than links to webpages that might contain the answer.

Anyway Wolfram Alpha will be launching in May.

[via Charles Stross, ComputerWorld, Physorg etc][image from e-magic on flickr]

How much science does a science fiction writer need?

Paul Raven @ 10-12-2008

Not just scientific knowledge, but technological, economical, social, geopolitical… you need the lot to be able to write believable near-future science fiction. Or so says the latest missive from Jason Stoddard discussing the burden of the modern science fiction writer:

If you want to write believable near-future fiction, you can’t choose a single point of advancement. You need to have a good understanding of advances in many different fields, and you need to be able to imagine how these can come together, for good or for bad. And to be really believable, you’ll need to know more than you ever wanted to know about how the world works, economically and socially, as well as where the trends are heading.

Otherwise, your fiction will soon read like that Golden Age lit, filled with spaceships manned by human calculators and spinning reels of tape.

He may have a point. But then again, he may have missed the point, or focussed on one that matters more to some than others. Jeremy Tolbert responds to Jason’s closing statement above:

If you’re intimidated by the accelerating advance of the future, don’t let that stop you from writing SF. You don’t have to write it that way. Personally, I take great enjoyment in throwing reality out the window when I write my SF. SF has only ever been about believability to a small subset of readers.  Believability in the context of tech, anyway. It, like all literature, does revolve around the believability of human action and emotion, however. Keep that in mind and you’ll write great fiction, and very few people will care about that other stuff.

I’m not an experienced enough writer to know which angle I prefer, but as a reader I’m quite fond of both – and while we keep the focus near-future here at Futurismic, I don’t think we’re anywhere close to the line of science fiction that’s so hard it’s rigid.

Which do you prefer?

Play computer games, hasten the Singularity

Paul Raven @ 19-05-2008

The man in the machineI expect the majority of Futurismic readers don’t really need an excuse to play computer games, but sometimes its nice to know that what looks like a waste of time is actually doing something productive – in this case, helping to develop artificial intelligence software. [via Roland Piquepaille] [image by Cayusa]

Computer scientist Luis von Ahn of Carnegie Mellon University (who was involved in the development of CAPTCHA tests, fact-fans!) has a website full of free-to-play GWAPs – “games with a purpose”. The purposes include building databases of image descriptions and collecting factual knowledge to improve image web searches and provide brain-food for artificial intelligences, respectively. The former one might sound familiar – Google licensed it as Google Image Labeler last year.

With Knol, Google enters the knowledge market

Tomas Martin @ 15-12-2007

The top part of an example knol

Google has announced a new wikipedia-like project, entitled ‘knol’. Short for knowledge, the project aims to have an encyclopedia type experience but with more emphasis on the author, rather than anonymous multiple contributors. There will not be editorial contributions from Google, but authors including ads will get revenue.

An example knol has been put up on the Google blog. Google says that the emphasis will be on large numbers of posts, ranked by users and views to encourage quality. Peer review seems to encourage good writers to become better rated and more successful. Added to the potential to earn money, this endeavour could provide a good potential way to create a freelance online writer business model. It looks like Knol will be less comprehensive/consistent across the entire volume of data than Wikipedia, but with better quality at the top end. It’s a similar model to Mahalo, only with the backing of perhaps the biggest internet company out there.

[via boing boing, image is the example of a Google Knol]

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