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Posts Tagged ‘wolfram’

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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Wolfram|Alpha iPhone App

Wolfram|Alpha iPhone App

[full disclosure: I’ve been working with the Wolfram|Alpha team… so I’ll leave out a review or discussion on price justification]

The Wolfram|Alpha iPhone App is live in the App Store.  The blogosphere has its own impressions.  Argue price, features, business models, and whatever else that seems relevant in those lively communities.  On this blog and post I’ll give you my impressions and use cases.

Features that are unique and handy to the iPhone App:

  • History – it keeps a running history of your queries.  As a utility for doing many queries within the same domain, this is extremely helpful and time saving
  • Favorites – As with the history, it’s nice to set up your own list of queries you’ll do over and over again.  This becomes a sort of “homepage” for me.
  • better GeoLocation – because the Apps can get at lat/long the overall geolocating is stronger than via the geoIP on the website.
  • Refined Keyboard input – when doing a lot of math or long calculations it’s much easier to input queries with a fine-tuned keyboard.  Though not a limitation on the full website, the constraints of the default mobile keyboards made using the website challenging on a smart phone.  Not so in the app.
  • Direct Links to Source Information – this will go unnoticed by many… but having a hyper linked bibliography with this depth is extremely useful if you need to research deeply or go beyond the calculation.

Features that make this a killer mobile app for me:

  • Instant access to real time information about the most important daily data points in my life all in one app: weather, stocks, earthquakes (i live in la!) …
  • An easy to use calculator that saves me tons of keystrokes via unit conversions and cleaning up my sloppy input
  • deep data in many of my own hobbies, pursuits and professional domains.  Getting an individual app for each hobby is quite expensive, time consuming and frustrating to learn how apps work

Things that can be improved:

  • I wish I could set the Favorites tab to be my default opening screen with a search box on top.  This would speed up activation of the service
  • Offline use for very basic calculations when no compute data is accessed.
  • Ability to Add Notes – I’d like to be able to keep private comments and ideas right inside the app (and export later with links to the inputs/outputs)
  • Mashing with Wikipedia and/or other essay style knowledge sources – would be convenient to have backgrounders on some topics and be able to use the Wolfram|Alpha assumption/categorization to do some of the knowledge mining for me.

Post your impressions/use cases once you get the app.

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BBC reports on simulations run by astronomers suggesting we could see some planets collide in a billion years or so.

What’s fun is that you can actually ATTEMPT to run these computations in Wolfram|Alpha.  Here’s mercury in 1 billion years. Unfortunately the one thing I want to be able to show is the orbits of the planets and that is pushing W|A to the heuristic timing limit.

I can put this into Mathematica and work it out using more local CPU power.  Then again, I like just playing with numbers to see where I can take this.  Here’s Mercury at 199,999 years.  Things get gnarly.

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Investigating causal factors instantly is not only possible it’s GREAT!

Check this graph out… think there’s a relationship?

GM revenue vs US Carbon Emissions

cool. very cool.

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Here is one of the best blog posts on putting Wolfram|Alpha into perspective:

Asking which result is “right” misses the point. Google is a search engine; it did exactly what it’s supposed to do. It isn’t making any any assumptions about what you’re looking for, and will give you everything the cat dragged in. If you’re an elementary school teacher or a flat-earther, you can find the result you want somewhere in the big, messy pile. If you want accurate data from a known and reliable source, and you want to use that data in other computations, you don’t want Google’s answer; you want Alpha’s. (BTW, the Earth’s circumference is .1024 of the distance to the Moon.)

When is this important? Imagine we were asking a more politically charged question, like the correlation between childhood vaccinations and autism, or the number of civilians killed in the six-day war. Google will (and should) give you a wide range of answers, from every part of the spectrum. It’s up to you to figure out whether the data actually came from. Alpha doesn’t yet have data about autism or six-day war casualties, and even when it does, no one should blindly assume that all data that’s “curated” is valid; but Wolfram does its homework, and when data like this is available, it will provide the source. Without knowing the source, you can’t even ask the question.

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An interesting approach to knowledge mentioned in Stephen Wolfram’s blog:

But what about all the actual knowledge that we as humans have accumulated?

A lot of it is now on the web—in billions of pages of text. And with search engines, we can very efficiently search for specific terms and phrases in that text.

But we can’t compute from that. And in effect, we can only answer questions that have been literally asked before. We can look things up, but we can’t figure anything new out.

Let’s see where this goes!

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