[permaculture] Wolfram Alpha is Coming -- and It Could be as Important as Google - Also see: True Knowledge - technology

Lawrence F. London, Jr. lflj at intrex.net
Wed Mar 18 01:27:18 EDT 2009

Again, For the Permaculture Knowledgebase/Database/Guild Database/Plant/Animal Relationships Database enthusiasts
from previous projects that arose from this list:

True Knowledge - technology



Demo Video
Our Technology

Very basically we have created a technology which can represent the world's knowledge in a form that is clear and 
accessible to humans, as well as being comprehensible to computers. This is different from the knowledge stored in 
websites and books, which is written in natural language that is good for humans, but incomprehensible to computers.
Because it is so different it is hard to describe the technology by direct comparison with anything else: instead there 
are several completely valid ways of looking at it. These include:
A Question-Answering Site
One way of thinking about our technology is that it is a website where you can ask questions about any subject and get a 
direct response. Unlike human-powered Q&A sites, you don't need to wait for someone to respond. The computer answers 
your question using knowledge stored in a form it can comprehend, and isn't just regurgitating text that it doesn't 
understand. For this reason it can answer questions it hasn't seen before and can combine knowledge through a process of 
inference and cross-referencing stored information to produce a reasoned answer.
The Answer Engine - The Perfect Complement to Search
Another way of thinking about our technology is as the perfect complement to search. A user can treat our site just as 
you did your previous search engine, but in addition to receiving a list of documents, your query will also be passed 
through our technology - if we can help more directly we will. Your query may be a standard question; even if it isn't, 
we may be able to work out what you are looking for and give you the answer directly, at the top of your screen. Because 
of the way facts are assessed you can enjoy a high degree of confidence that any information we retrieve will be 
accurate (unlike information on any single web page).

Using our question-answering technology we can also interpret the typical two and three word "keywordese" queries that 
people have learned to type into search engines as questions and can produce an inline response. Where what is typed is 
just the name of an entity, our technology can produce a small information screen giving core information about the 
entity (as well as search engine results). This information screen is populated from our knowledge base and determined 
by the type of thing that has been entered by the user. For example, a business screen can contain contact details and 
their official website.

Platform partners can similarly use our API to integrate our question answering with their search results.
A "Wikipedia for Facts"
The knowledge in our system comes from two main sources: information we have imported ourselves and facts added by users 
like you. A big part of our technology is enabling users to add knowledge without having to have any technical 
understanding of the underlying computer processes.

The crucial difference between our technology and sites like Wikipedia is that, whereas their users create and edit 
documents in natural language, here the information is in the form of discrete facts. Unlike natural language, these 
facts are in a form that computers can understand and process.

One advantage of having the computer understand the knowledge it holds is that the quality of the knowledge can be 
maintained. With our system once a fact has been established with enough evidence it can't be easily changed. 
Furthermore, facts that contradict this knowledge are also automatically prevented. Within Wikipedia when someone 
maliciously or erroneously edits a page, the only solution is for someone else to change it back. Any page being looked 
at is the opinion of the last person to edit the page.
A Universal Database
With a typical database-driven application the developers sit down and create a schema - a number of related database 
tables and fields which store the data required. They then write code which manipulates and processes the data in that 
schema and when the application is finished this code is run by users. The knowledge that such a system can process is 
extremely narrow and remains so because nothing that happens after launch expands the scope of the application. Users 
may add data to the tables but the schema remains fixed.

Our technology is like a database application except that everything in it is amenable to expansion by users. The scope 
of the knowledge that it can store expands every time a user adds a new class, relation or attribute; and knowledge 
about every conceivable entity can be put into our system and used to answer questions.
A Platform for Building Knowledge Services
Every database driven application that has ever been written starts by knowing nothing.

Building a knowledge service thus involves many thousands of hours of hard work creating and populating database tables, 
and writing software to manipulate and present those tables. Such systems needs to be taught everything from scratch, 
and at the end they know very little: only the narrow knowledge put in by the developers.

Building a knowledge service on top of our technology is different. The system already knows a great deal; new services 
can be built on this and existing knowledge can often be leveraged - massively reducing implementation time and 
ultimately increasing the quality of the delivered service.

We experience this every day as we add knowledge services to our system."

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