Wolfram Alpha Interview

An interview with Xiang Wang of Wolfram Research in China, by Han Xu (Collin Hsu) of W3China fame.

Interesting excerpt:

Q: Since Wolfram|Alpha is dubbed ‘smarter’ than traditional search engines, I wonder how much AI techniques are actually employed in the system? How is inference done? What is the provenance of each fact/claim? And what if there is a disagreement? For example, how it would represent information about Israel/Palestine area?

A: It’s much more an engineered artifact than a humanlike artificial intelligence. Some of what it does – especially in language understanding – may be similar to what humans do. But its primary objective is to do directed computations, not to act as a general intelligence. Wolfram|Alpha uses established scientific or other models as the basis for its computations. Whenever it does new computations, it’s effectively deriving new facts. About the controversial data you asked about, we deal in different ways with numerical data and particular issues. For numerical data, Wolfram| Alpha curators typically assign a range of values that are then carried through computations. For issues such as the interpretation of particular names or terms, like Israel/Palestine area issue mentioned in your question, Wolfram|Alpha typically prompts users to choose the assumption they want. We spend considerable effort on automated testing, expert review, and checking external data that we use to ensure the results. But with trillions of pieces of data, it’s inevitable that there are still errors out there. If you ever see a problem, please report it.