Sunday, May 10, 2009

Wolfram Alpha: Natural Language Search Tool

The BBC has a report about Dr. Stephen Wolfram´s search engine, the computational knowledge engine, based around answering questions rather than just matching web pages.

I´ve seen examples of expert systems in the past and to a certain degree they are useful provided the information is structured in the right way. But very soon you get into the realm of vague questions that humans are generally very good as resolving but machines aren´t. I have some doubts about how well this will work like Dr. Boris Katz describes in the same article, since natural language requires context to work correctly, the same words can have different meanings and how a question is phrased can insinuate a different angle of querying.

Another worry is deciding which sources to use when answering a single question, when in fact different sources may provide different answers - how can the system make those kinds of decisions? Even today, news articles from different sites very often all refer back to a single or limited number of original sources. I still feel there needs to be a level of personal decision making and common sense applied when accessing the web and not to totally trust an automated system as a final authority on any subject.