A recent article in The Guardian looks at Wolfram Alpha, the answer engine (rather than search engine), now that a few months have passed since its launch. It got some mixed reviews and my experiences whilst trying it ranged from “wow – it gives me the answer and all this other information too” to “why doesn’t the damn thing understand what I’m asking.”
However, there is a lot of promise here, especially as it is seen – according to the article – as a multi-decade project. It is based on Mathematica, an application that looks hugely complex and needs further investigation.
I’m interested because I believe that determining and visualising patterns in data are going to be an important part of doing business in the future and a way of tackling important issues. They are part of the Web Squared idea by John Battelle and Tim O’Reilly:
Data analysis, visualization, and other techniques for seeing patterns in data are going to be an increasingly valuable skillset. Employers take notice.
Nor is this phenomenon limited to the consumer web. IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative and the NASA-Cisco “planetary skin” project both show how deeply business will be transformed by the sensor web. Oil refineries, steel mills, factories, and supply chains are being instrumented with sensors and exactly the same kind of machine learning algorithms that we see in web applications.
I see this viewpoint all around me at the moment – now it’s time to do something about it…
• Mathematica – Data Analysis and Mining