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Posts Tagged ‘Wolfram|Alpha’

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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Whether it’s “valid” or not humans (and probably most animals) make associations of new, unknown things with similar-seeming known things.  In fact, this is the basis of communication.

In the case of discussing new websites/services/devices like Wolfram|Alpha, Bing, Kindle, iPhone, Twitter and so on it’s perfectly reasonable to associate them to their forebears.  Until users/society gets comfortable with the new thing and have a way of usefully talking about it making comparisons to known things is effective in forming shared knowledge.

My favorite example of this is Wikipedia and Wikis.  What the heck is a wiki?  and what the heck is wikipedia based on this wiki?  Don’t get me wrong – I know what a wiki is. But to someone who doesn’t, hasn’t used one, and hasn’t contributed to one it’s pretty hard to describe without giving them anchors based on stuff they do know.  “Online Encyclopedia”, “Like a Blog but more open”…  (for fun read how media used to talk about wikipedia, more here)

More recently is Twitter.  What is it like?  A chat room? a social network?  a simpler blog? IM?  right… it’s all that and yet something different, it’s Twitter.  You know it when you use it.

Just like in nature new forms are always evolving with technology.  Often new tech greatly resembles its ancestories.  Other times it doesn’t.

In the specific case of Wolfram|Alpha and Bing/google… they share a common interface in the form of the browser and an HTML text field.  They share a similar foundation in trying to make information easy to access.  The twist is that Wolfram|Alpha computes over retrieved information and can actually synthesize (combine, plot, correlate) it into new information.  Search engines retreive information and synthesize ways to navigate it.  Very different end uses, often very complimentary.  Wikipedia uses humans to synthesize information into new information, so it shares some concepts with Wolfram|Alpha.  Answers.com and other answer sites typically are a mash up of databases and share the concept of web search engines of synthesizing ways to navigate data.

All of these are USEFUL tools and they ARE INTERCONNECTED.  None of them will replace each other.  Likely they will all co-evolve. And we will evolve our ways of talking about them.

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