The Beginnings of Skynet

Computers have come a long way, and many science fiction stories depict their continued maturation ultimately leading to Skynet, HAL, WOPR, etc. The internet represents a seemingly inexhaustible source of data, but its just data. Powerful search engines working in harmony on grids can find that data in milliseconds, but that's where computers stop. Until now.

You're probably thinking the next step in this evolution is artificial intelligence, but there's an intermediate step we're missing. First we need computers to derive some meaning from all that data. Computers must make sense of the data in order for it to be useful.

Enter Stephen Wolfram and the Wolfram|Alpha project. Not since the Segway has there been this much hype around a new technology, and its potential to impact the world.

From the Wolfram|Alpha team...

Our overarching goal, the “higher purpose” of this project, is to make all computable, factual knowledge available to everyone. What Wolfram|Alpha does is compute on top of those facts—answering questions, solving equations, providing insights, projecting future behaviors, and more.

Now instead of searching for data, you can search for answers. But how did they do it? There are three basic ingredients. First, they assembled a large amount of verified, accurate data. Then they programmed a vast number of formulas and computations using a tool called Mathematica. Lastly, they created the interface to combine the two based on the question posed.

A few select people have been invited to use the system, and their reports have been impressive. It will be exciting when the project is finally revealed to the public, but keep in mind that it will always be a work-in-progress.

I wonder how this new advancement will impact the way we shop for products online. Will it make it easier to find exactly what product fits our needs best? Or is it just another step toward the machines exterminating us?

Comments:

Wait a sec, you talk about this skynet thing as being a positive! ;) I'm excited to try out W|A.

Posted by Ivan on May 12, 2009 at 01:40 AM CDT #

I too am looking forward to the chance to test out Wolfram|Alpha. The reports I've read have been very positive. But I haven't yet figured out how this technology might apply to retail. Any ideas?

Posted by David on May 12, 2009 at 01:44 AM CDT #

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David Dorf, Sr Director Technology Strategy for Oracle Retail, shares news and ideas about the retail industry with a focus on innovation and emerging technologies.


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