I mean "Incredible" as in I don't believe it for a minute. Stephen Wolfram
says he will shortly release search software that actually
"computes" answers rather than just looking up matches in a database.
Someday search will understand what you want, what answers it actually has, and the relationship between the two. We're not talking about "find me stuff about fixing a forgotten password". That's easy for Google to find. It's not so easy for Google to answer factual questions, but Stephen Wolfram says his software will be able to do just that. Here's Nova Spivack describing his impressions:
Instead, Wolfram Alpha actually computes the answers to a wide range of questions -- like questions that have factual answers such as "What is the location of Timbuktu?" or "How many protons are in a hydrogen atom?," "What was the average rainfall in Boston last year?," "What is the 307th digit of Pi?," "where is the ISS?" or "When was GOOG worth more than $300?"
Think about that for a minute. It computes the answers. Wolfram Alpha doesn't simply contain huge amounts of manually entered pairs of questions and answers, nor does it search for answers in a database of facts. Instead, it understands and then computes answers to certain kinds of questions.
My reaction is simple: I doubt it.
Oh, not that we won't someday have software like this. We definitely will. But to live up to the implied promises, this would have to be very advanced AI. Extremely advanced. So advanced that if Stephen Wolfram really has done what he claims, our world will be radically changing as a result.
I'm suspicious on two counts. One is that quantum leaps in AI are suspicious enough by themselves. Perhaps even more suspicious is the bald faced marketing tactic of announcing that they WILL do this two months from now. That smacks of vaporware and perhaps an upcoming effort to get funding. If you really have something this incredible, you don't need to build buzz. Just release it: I and the rest of the world will fall over in amazement.
I suspect instead that Wolfram has nothing more than the kind of basically useless efforts that are out there now. Try MIT's START, for example. Just now I asked it "When did SCO first sue IBM?". It doesn't know who or what SCO is and certainly doesn't know that they sued IBM. I asked "When did Reagan first speak of supply side economics?" and got referred to Wikipedia. I got better and quicker answers from Google and I bet that's just what is going to happen once Wolfram Alpha goes live. There WILL be questions it can answer, but like START, they'll be very limited.
And if not? Well, then we are well on our way to the kind of robotics envisioned by Asimov et al. so many years ago. The world will change, and rapidly. Future historians will mark May 2009 as the beginning of the Robotics Era.