Universal Answer Engine

May 16, 2009

In the gap created by Wolfram Alpha’s sort of start tonight, I poked through my files. I came across “How to Build a Universal Answer Engine: Ten Vital Principles” here. After a week at a conference and dozens of conversations about whizzy new search systems, I must admit I am a bit jaded. True Knowledge, on the other hand, is excited about the idea of a Universal Knowledge Engine. This is a Web log post about True Knowledge’s comuter system designed to answer users’ questions on any subject. I must admit that I am skeptical. The questions have to be in text. So much for equations? The questions must be in a language I speak, which may or may not make my questions intelligible. Enough of this skepticism. The write up lays out “principles”, and I am not comfortable repeating each. I can highlight two principles and offer a comment:

Principle 4 is “The only truly scalable way to learn envryitng is by allowing users to contribute.” I don’t really disagree, but I think only a small percentage of a user community contributes information. To get around this problem, True Knowledge taps into Wikipedia. I give True Knowledge credit for mentioning that some users are not to be trusted. The problem is that with only the motivated contributing, the system has to find some way to determine the likelihood that a particular contribution and item are likely to be “correct” or “trusted”. This is a pretty complicated task, and I think that it is worth noting that the Google and others are beavering away on this problem.

Principal 8 is “All fqacts need sources and these need to be available to the user.” This sounds like provenance, which is related to principle 4. I saw a demo by a Stanford professor where provenance and uncertainty were query modes supported by the system. True Knowledge seems to be in step with this line of inquiry. Calculating these “values’ will consume a chunk of computer time slices.

To wrap up, the principles are interesting. A number of companies are in the question answering business, and these organizations will need deep pockets to pull off a service that keeps me happy.

Stephen Arnold, May 16, 2009


2 Responses to “Universal Answer Engine”

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  2. DishyMix: Susan Bratton Podcasts & Blogs Famous Executives » Natural Language Oracle – True Knowledge: New Search Technology from Cambridge #TG2009 on July 17th, 2009 12:37 pm

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