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[ontolog-forum] Wolfram Alpha

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 09 Mar 2009 08:30:40 -0500
Message-id: <49B51A00.5080401@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Stephen Wolfram, who is an outstanding mathematician, built up
the Mathematica system, which is the premier mathematical computing
system available.  His company has now produced a collection of
mathematical models (i.e, ontologies plus reasoning modules that
use Mathematica as their foundation) for a wide range of domains.    (01)

In May, anybody will be able to ask it factual question that can
be answered by formal reasoning or computation from material
available on the WWW.    (02)

Following is Wolfram's summary of the project:    (03)

    http://blog.wolfram.com/2009/03/05/wolframalpha-is-coming/    (04)

Following is a testimonial by someone who has had hands-on
experience in testing Wolfram Alpha and was unable to make
it fail:    (05)

http://www.twine.com/item/122mz8lz9-4c/wolfram-alpha-is-coming-and-it-could-be-as-important-as-google    (06)

As the title indicates, the author, Nova Spivack, thinks it could be
as important as Google.    (07)

Following is another comment on Ars Technica:    (08)

http://arstechnica.com/software/news/2009/03/stephen-wolfram-and-the-techno-dianetics-of-google-ology.ars    (09)

Following is an excerpt from Nova Spivack's note.  I strongly
agree with it.  In fact, I believe that this group must consider
Wolfram's approach to be a prime candidate for any system of
formal ontologies that might recommend, propose, or adopt.    (010)

Note that I said *approach*, not the explicit content.  I'm sure
that the current content of Wolfram Alpha is also valuable, but
the techniques they use for developing and using that content
should be considered as a basis for further developments.    (011)

John Sowa
_____________________________________________________________________    (012)

Relationship to the Semantic Web    (013)

During our discussion, after I tried and failed to poke holes in his 
natural language parser for a while, we turned to the question of just 
what this thing is, and how it relates to other approaches like the 
Semantic Web.    (014)

The first question was could (or even should) Wolfram Alpha be built 
using the Semantic Web in some manner, rather than (or as well as) the 
Mathematica engine it is currently built on. Is anything missed by not 
building it with Semantic Web's languages (RDF, OWL, Sparql, etc.)?    (015)

The answer is that there is no reason that one MUST use the Semantic Web 
stack to build something like Wolfram Alpha. In fact, in my opinion it 
would be far too difficult to try to explicitly represent everything 
Wolfram Alpha knows and can compute using OWL ontologies and the 
reasoning that they enable. It is just too wide a range of human 
knowledge and giant OWL ontologies are too difficult to build and curate.    (016)

It would of course at some point be beneficial to integrate with the 
Semantic Web so that the knowledge in Wolfram Alpha could be accessed, 
linked with, and reasoned with, by other semantic applications on the 
Web, and perhaps to make it easier to pull knowledge in from outside as 
well. Wolfram Alpha could probably play better with other Web services 
in the future by providing RDF and OWL representations of it's 
knowledge, via a SPARQL query interface -- the basic open standards of 
the Semantic Web. However for the internal knowledge representation and 
reasoning that takes places in Wolfram Alpha, OWL and RDF are not 
required and it appears Wolfram has found a more pragmatic and efficient 
representation of his own.    (017)

I don't think he needs the Semantic Web INSIDE his engine, at least; it 
seems to be doing just fine without it. This view is in fact not 
different from the current mainstream approach to the Semantic Web -- as 
one commenter on this article pointed out, "what you do in your database 
is your business" -- the power of the Semantic Web is really for 
knowledge linking and exchange -- for linking data and reasoning across 
different databases. As Wolfram Alpha connects with the rest of the 
"linked data Web," Wolfram Alpha could benefit from providing access to 
its knowledge via OWL, RDF and Sparql. But that's off in the future.    (018)

It is important to note that just like OpenCyc (which has taken decades 
to build up a very broad knowledge base of common sense knowledge and 
reasoning heuristics), Wolfram Alpha is also a centrally hand-curated 
system. Somehow, perhaps just secretly but over a long period of time, 
or perhaps due to some new formulation or methodology for rapid 
knowledge-entry, Wolfram and his team have figured out a way to make the 
process of building up a broad knowledge base about the world practical 
where all others who have tried this have found it takes far longer than 
expected. The task is gargantuan -- there is just so much diverse 
knowledge in the world. Representing even a small area of it formally 
turns out to be extremely difficult and time-consuming.    (019)

It has generally not been considered feasible for any one group to 
hand-curate all knowledge about every subject. The centralized 
hand-curation of Wolfram Alpha is certainly more controllable, 
manageable and efficient for a project of this scale and complexity. It 
avoids problems of data quality and data-consistency. But it's also a 
potential bottleneck and most certainly a cost-center. Yet it appears to 
be a tradeoff that Wolfram can afford to make, and one worth making as 
well, from what I could see. I don't yet know how Wolfram has managed to 
assemble his knowledge base in less than a very long time, or even how 
much knowledge he and his team have really added, but at first glance it 
seems to be a large amount. I look forward to learning more about this 
aspect of the project.    (020)

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