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Archive for the ‘Computers’ Category

UPDATE: I missed SWs blog post.  Brilliant!

Early versions of this approach go back nearly 50 years, to the first phase of artificial intelligence research. And incremental progress has been made—notably as tracked for the past 20 years in the annual TREC (Text Retrieval Conference) question answering competition. IBM’s Jeopardy system is very much in this tradition—though with more sophisticated systems engineering, and with special features aimed at the particular (complex) task of competing on Jeopardy.

Wolfram|Alpha is a completely different kind of thing—something much more radical, based on a quite different paradigm. The key point is that Wolfram|Alpha is not dealing with documents, or anything derived from them. Instead, it is dealing directly with raw, precise, computable knowledge. And what’s inside it is not statistical representations of text, but actual representations of knowledge.

 

Maybe you’ve seen the latest NOVA episode about Watson, the AI machine that played Jeopardy against former champions.

The first blush answer would be: NO.

The linguistics are simply not there yet.

However, if Jeopardy questions were more “computational” vs. linguistic and fact retrivial the answer might be: YES.

Wolfram|Alpha has the raw power to do it, but it lacks the data and linguistic system to do it.

IBM was clever to combine the history of Jeopardy questions with tons of documents.    It’s similar, but not the same as, common sense engine from Cyc.    It’s not fully computational knowledge.  It’s semantic.   It’s cleverness comes from the depth of the question training set and the document training set.

It would breakdown quickly if it were seeing questions about facts that had never been printed in a document before.   An example would be “How far away will the moon be tomorrow?”

Wolfram|Alpha can answer that!   Now, what’s challenging is that there is a much bigger universe of questions that have never been asked than those that have!   So Wolfram|Alpha already has far more knowledge.   However, its linguistics are not strong enough to clearly demonstrate that AND it will probably never catch up!   Because Wolfram|Alpha can answer questions that have never been asked so people will always ask it questions that will trip it up… they will always push the linguistics.

In the end, a combination of Watson, Wolfram|Alpha and Cyc could be very fun indeed!

Perhaps we should hack that up?

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I’ve had a good time messing with this iPad. The hype is justified I’m afraid….

It’s true many of the ideas coming to life in the iPad aren’t new but like so many apple products they just put them together better than anything we’ve seen before.

Touch screens
Manipulative interfaces
Long battery life
Tablet format
Simple, controlled ui
Virtual keyboard
Wireless connectivity
Spelling correction
Universal access features
Ereader
And so on…

Bits and pieces have been tried before. This is just a whole different package.

Sure it’s got some things that can be improved… I keep pressing the caps lock key, sometimes the screen mode gets weird, and the screen gets dirty quickly like the iPhone (dorritos aren’t a viable snack anymore). This are things that can be refined overtime.

One major concern I do have… The iPad doesn’t seem rugged. It’s so pretty and so smooth but I fear moving it out of my lap. Reminds me of holding our children during their first week of life…

Apple takes a lot of criticism for lack of multitasking and closed os. Frankly though it flat out works. I think if you don’t have constraints on a system it gets sloppy quickly. My droid phone has all sorts of oddities that my blackberry and iPod touch do not. I’m not saying one approach is better than another on os and devices… Different devices different needs. I want the iPad to work well on my most common tasks and it appears to do that. I will take some loss of functionality for a great experience on key elements. Also I noticed that most good apps include the right functions so that multitasking in the os isn’t really that important. E.g. Code editors including a browser an FTP function in app.

The economics of the ipad will change the industry. The hardware is so functional it’s hard to believe you can get one of these for 500 bucks. And this is gen 1. The software In the app store is already very good. And it’s easily 80% cheaper than typical laptop / desktop apps. The fact that you can attach a bluetooth headset to this and run Skype pretty much could do in landlines and typical voip. When the 3G models ship with their decent data plans the cellular economics have got to change.

I played a few of the games. They are very fun and very good looking/sounding. Beyond being a very big threat to other gaming machines like the ds and psp, I think the iPad will do what the Wii did – bring about a whole category of gaming and a whole new category of gamers. Board game dynamics are going to be much more interesting on this platform than in any other platform. At the controller less experience with a screen as part of the interface is very enjoyable. And unlike the iPhone the experience is bigger in every way.

My favorite apps so far are Wolfram|Alpha, iWork, brushes, word press, AIM/life stream, and Theo Grays The Elements.

Civ revolutions and Tap Tap radiation are awesome games.

And my ultimate test for whether this will be a long term device for me… Can I type fast and in great enough quantity to be able to write emails and script/program? Yes! Both the keyboard and the text editors are very functional.

By Christmas time the consumer software, gaming and computer industry are going to look very different. New companies, new economics, new approaches…. Yes, it will be that fast of transition…

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Now that both the iPad and Wolfram|Alpha iPad are available it’s time to really evaluate the capabilities of these platforms.

Wolfram|Alpha on the iPad

Wolfram|Alpha iPad

[disclaimer: last year I was part of the launch team for Wolfram|Alpha – on the business/outreach end.]

Obviously I know a great deal about the Wolfram|Alpha platform… what it does today and what it could do in the near future and in the hands of great developers all over the world.  I’m not shy in saying that computational knowledge available on mobile devices IS a very important development in computing.  Understanding computable knowledge is the key to understanding why I believe mobile computable knowledge matters.   Unfortunately it’s not the easiest of concepts to describe.

Consider what most mobile utilities do… they retrieve information and display it.  The information is mostly pre-computed (meaning it has been transformed before your request), it’s generally in a “static” form.   You cannot operate on the data in a meaningful way.  You can’t query most mobile utilities with questions that have never been asked before expecting a functional response.  Even the really cool augmented reality apps are basically just static data.  You can’t do anything with the data being presented back to you… it’s simply an information overlay on a 3d view of the world.

The only popular applications that currently employ what I consider computable knowledge are navigation apps that very much are computing real time based on your requests (locations, directions, searches).    Before nav apps you had to learn routes by driving them, walking them, etc. and really spending time associating a map, road signs and your own sense of direction.   GPS navigation helps us all explore the world and get around much more efficiently. However, navigation is only 1 of the 1000s of tasks we perform that benefit from computable knowledge.

Wolfram|Alpha has a much larger scope!    It can compute so many things against your current real world conditions and the objects in the world that you might be interacting with.   For instance you might be a location scout for a movie and you want to not only about how far the locations are that you’re considering you want to compute ambient sunlight, typical weather patterns, wind conditions, likelihood your equipment might be in danger and so forth.  You even need to consider optics for your various shots. You can get at all of that right now with Wolfram|Alpha.  This is just one tiny, very specific use case.  I can work through thousands of these.

The trouble with Wolfram|Alpha (its incarnations to date)  people cite is that it can be tough to wrangle the right query.   The challenge is that people still think about it as a search engine.   The plain and simple fact is that it isn’t a web search engine.  You should not use it as a search engine.  Wolfram|Alpha is best used to get things done. It isn’t the tool you use to get an overview of what’s out there – it’s the system you use to compute, to combine, to design, to combine concepts.

The iPad is going to dramatically demonstrate the value of Wolfram|Alpha’s capabilities (and vice versa!). The form factor has enough fidelity and mobility to show why having computable knowledge literally at your fingertips is so damn useful.  The iPhone is simply too small and you don’t perform enough intensive computing tasks on it to take full advantage.  The other thing iPad and similar platforms will demonstrate is that retrieving information isn’t going to be enough for people.  They want to operate on the world.  They want to manipulate.  The iPad’s major design feature is that you physically manipulate things with your hands.  iPod does that, but again, it’s too small for many operations.   Touch screen PCs aren’t new, but they are usually not mobile.  Thus, here we are on the cusp of direct manipulation of on screen objects.  This UI will matter a great deal to the user.  They won’t want to just sort, filter, search again.  They will demand things respond in meaningful ways to their touches and gestures.

So how will Wolfram|Alpha take advantage of this?   It’s already VISUAL! And the visuals aren’t static images.  Damn near every visualization in Wolfram|Alpha are real time computed specifically to your queries.   The visuals can respond to your manipulations.  In the web version of Wolfram|Alpha this didn’t make as much sense  because the keyboard and mouse aren’t at all the same as your own two hands on top of a map, graph, 3d protein, etc.

Early on there was a critical review of Wolfram|Alpha’s interface – how you actually interact with the system.  It was dead on in many respects.

WA is two things: a set of specialized, hand-built databases and data visualization apps, each of which would be cool, the set of which almost deserves the hype; and an intelligent UI, which translates an unstructured natural-language query into a call to one of these tools. The apps are useful and fine and good. The natural-language UI is a monstrous encumbrance…

In an iPad world, natural language will sit back-seat to hands on manipulations.  Wolfram|Alpha will really shine when people manipulate the visuals and the data display and the various short cuts. People’s interaction with browsers is almost all link or text based, so the language issues with Wolfram|Alpha and other systems are always major challenges.  Now what will be interesting is how many popular browser services will be able to successfully move over to a touch interface.  I don’t think that many will make it.  A new type of services will have to crop up as iPad apps will not be simply add-ons to a web app, like they usually are for iPhone.  These services will have to be great in handling direct manipulation, getting actual tasks accomplished and will need to be highly visual.

My iPad arrives tomorrow.  Wolfram|Alpha is the first app getting loaded. and yes, I’m biased.  You will be too.

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4-8 weeks max before someone puts linux on iPad.

Maybe I should do it?  I did, after all, invent the LiPhone several years ago.

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HP Slate vs iPad

Perhaps a more apples to apples competition is HP/Microsoft vs. Apple for the yet to be valuable category of “tablets”.

The HP Slate and Apple iPad devices are remarkably similar.

Here’s the Slate:

Here’s the iPad:

That’s right… the same basic concept and function.

you know why Apple will sell more than HP?  Marketing.  Look at how Apple polishes everything up from the product design to the silly video.

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Apple iPad

The rumors are finally rumors no more.  The iPad is out.

When the iphone came out it was clear it was going to change phones.

the iPad… hmmmm…. where does it fit?  what does it advance?   what experience does it enhance?

the only obvious thing I see right now is video gaming and ebooks/publishing.

but……  10 hour battery life makes it a tough tough tough thing to compete with good ol’ paper.

There’s a lot of talk about Digital Publishing… new form of newspaper.  I just don’t buy it.  If the browser wasn’t a good medium for newspapers, there’s really no basis to assume the iPad will be.

There’s a killer application in education for this.  It’s actually functional enough to act as a digital library and a computing tool.

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In my early discussions and presentations regarding Wolfram|Alpha I often used Computational Journalism as the initial non-engineering use case.   Most folks weren’t quite sure what I meant initially by Computational Journalism until I explained how, as a toe in the water step, one could easily and automatically enhance articles and features with generated knowledge and visuals.   It seems I won’t need to explain in great depth the utility and inevitability of computational journalism because enough conference summaries, op-eds and journalists are starting to popularize the concept.

Here’s a great piece from PBS.

A new set of tools would help reporters find patterns in otherwise unstructured or unsearchable information. For instance, the Obama administration posted letters from dozens of interest groups providing advice on issues, but the letters were not searchable. A text-extraction tool would allow reporters to feed PDF documents into a Web service and return a version that could be indexed and searched. The software might also make it easy to tag documents with metadata such as people’s names, places and dates. Another idea is to improve automatic transcription software for audio and video files, often available (but not transcribed) for government meetings and many court hearings.

Wired UK goes a bit deeper into some specific companies and projects.

And here’s a nice presentation by Kurt Cagle that gives a good overview of some of the computational foundational technology out there.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that the vast majority of daily news will be completely machine generated and machine broadcast.  Journalists will be increasingly involved in bigger, deeper features and defining the computational logic to generate the news stream.

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Straight Shot:  The Zune HD is a better gadget than the iPOD touch.

Still needs work:  The Zune HD has only a handful of games available and almost no apps.

Frustrating:  Despite a decent browser, most websites kick the Zune browser to their crappy mobile sites.

Long Wind:   I’ve been a avid user of the ipod touch since it’s launch.  I love mine.  However, it’s starting to annoy me.  The battery with wifi is weak on the touch.  The itunes store doesn’t save your password and prompts you incessantly.  I hate the way apps come up and shut down.  It’s heavy.  The headphone jack is on bottom… blargh (so is the zune’s… double blargh).

my biggest beef though is that the itunes experience is old and the track by track business model annoys me.  I much prefer the amazon mp3 approach for track buying (buy once and it’s yours) and the Zune pass for all-you-can-eat subscriptions.

The Zune HD is a great little device.  I mean it is little… very light and thin.  Touch screen is crisp and responsive.  The user interface is nice and seems fresh.  The HD radio is very nice.   Ok, i’ll admit it’s still a bit geeky looking compared to the sexy ipod/iphone curvey/shiny/flashy cases…. but geeky is the new sexy, right?

Mark My Words:  The Zune and the Microsoft entertainment ecosystem will continue to chip away at Apple’s dominance.  From gaming  to VOD to music players Microsoft has a better line up and that will win out over time.

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Was able to get this config up and running.  There’s only one gotcha…

the Dell Studio XPS doesn’t have the Intel VT turned on by default in the bios.  You must enable this AND shutdown the computer completely for it to be recognized by VMWare.  A restart isn’t enough.   This setting is in the Advanced tab in AO7 version of the BIOS.

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Yeah, baby.  Got my new DELL Studio XPS working with my Blackberry Storm.  A little bit of futzing and now I’m blogging from verizon 3g.

Note: Dell Studio XPS from Best Buy does not have Bluetooth enabled.  You have to use USB.  Doesn’t matter that’s really the only way to go with tethering as BT drains the battery…

Here’s how to do this:

Get barry from Net Direct.

(there’s an ubuntu binary package, they link to the repository.  just add it to synaptic and you can get all of barry)

once you get barry installed.  edit /etc/ppp/peers/barry-verizon.

just change the top part for user and password:

user “<yournumber>@vzw3g.com”

password “vzw”

and at the bottom with the pty line:

pty “/usr/sbin/pppob -P <devicepassword>”

If you didn’t set a password in your Options > security on your storm, you need to do that.

save your edits.

connect your blackberry.  when it prompts for mass mode, if it does. select YES.

go to command line and type: btools -l   if your Storm is listed, great.  if not, something is wrong.

if it’s connected, now you can connect to the interwebs:

sudo pppd call barry-verizon

This should work on all ubuntu 9.04 installs, not just DELL studio laptops.  I point out the DELL thing only because sometimes people search that way and sometimes there are weird things that you look for by model…

Speeds are really good with tethering this.

Also, I have to point out that the DELL XPS laptop is great with ubuntu.  Easy install.  only thing I’m futzing with is hibernate.  Everything else works out of the box.

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