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.

History time

From the O’Reilly Factor, Sept 12.

Ron Paul: … so I see the Iranians as acting logically and defensively. We’ve been fighting the Iranians since 1953. We overthrew their government through the CIA in 1953. We were allies with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s and we encouraged him to invade Iran…

Bill O’Reilly: Allright, so I just want to get … we don’t need the history lesson … but I do want to get this on the record. I do understand the region … but we don’t have time to do the history lesson tonight. … You don’t fear Iran, even though Iran has demonstrated, it can start a war, which it did last summer with its Hezbollah surrogates and it stated, it stated, that it wants to do damage to Israel, to wipe it off the face of the earth. And is developing a nuclear weapon. And you don’t fear them? …

Notes from Bristol Amnesty International meeting

Jan 15 AI Bristol: Martin, Nancy, Margaret

Notes taken at the January 15th 2004 Bristol Amnesty International (AI) meeting. There were two guest speakers on the topic of “Israel, Palestine and Amnesty’s new mandate“: Martin Knight, AIUK Co-ordinator for Israel, the Occupied Territories and the Palestine Authority, and Nancy Rollason of Bristol Palestine Soldidarity Movement,

Note: this article was written a week afterwards based on my semi-legible handwritten notes. It likely containing errors and omissions (some but not all flagged with ‘@’ signs). This version (updated 18 March 2004) includes some edits and clarifications from Martin. The text that follows reports as closely as possible what I heard from Martin and Nancy. Also note that I’ve avoided prefixing each sentence with qualifiers such as “Martin reported that…”, since the article itself sets that context. Where my notes seem to capture a reasonably verbatim account of what was said, I’ve put the text in quotes; please bear in mind that I probably didn’t get it word-perfect. I’ve added a few links to supplementary materials that I found online. Except for the AI and ISM sites, these links weren’t provided by the speakers.
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