Computational Knowledge: Wonders of Wolfram

1.   After reading this article, choose a passage from it and write about your thoughts or queries.

  • “Actually, even having the knowledge and being able to compute from it isn’t enough. Because we still have to solve the problem of how we communicate with the system. And when one’s dealing with, sort of, any kind of knowledge, any question, there’s only one practical way: we have to use human natural language. So another big problem we’ve had to solve is how to take those ugly messy utterances that humans make, and turn them into something computable. Actually, I thought this might be just plain impossible. But it turned out that particularly as a result of some science I did—that I’ll talk about a bit later—we made some big breakthroughs.”

My only question towards this statement is this: how does Wolfram Alpha account for the differences in “human natural language”? For example, I would never say a phrase like “human natural language”. I would say something more like “natural way humans speak” which is different. How can one robot, if you will, account for all these differences? And what about the differences in words depending on the user’s location? Where person A says “elevator” and person B says “lift”, “lift” means something different to person A.

With these questions aside, I am not bagging on this invention; it’s amazing! And as time goes on, I wait for the truly perfect machine that can solve any problem, tell you exactly what you need to know, and doesn’t go mad with power to take over the world like some Sci-Fi movie.

2.   Try analyzing your Facebook. Include screen shots if you like and reflect on what insight you gained from this analysis.

This screen shot is of my “friend web”. It puts all of my closest friends “according to comments, likes, interaction, etc.) nearest the big blue dot (that’s me!). What this did was it showed me, by looking at the excluded dots, that I don’t know many of my Facebook “friends”. I realized that Facebook was not completely about keeping in touch with friends, but an unspoken competition of who-can-get-the-most-friends in which everyone adds everyone.

3.   Explore your EE topic using Wolfram Alpha – provide an example.

Because I have not completely nailed down an EE topic yet, I was not able to search for something incredibly specific. But, I’m fairly confident that I want to use the book Life of Pi as my basis. When I put “Life of Pi” into the search engine, it instantly assumed I was referring to the upcoming movie. After clarifying that I was searching for the book, the program simply told me things like the author, its publication date and the award that it has won.

4.   Do a frivolous comparison or other kind of search.

For this search I chose to divide the population of the world by the natural number e. Because I know that the population of the world is roughly 7 billion people and that is an irrational number that rounds to 2.71, I knew what to expect. Lo and behold, Wolfram Alpha gave me the approximation of 2.5 billion, which I believe is correct.

5.   Ask at least two “knowledge issue” questions related to this tool and the goals of the company.

  • What does “true” mean?

“A statement which is rigorously known to be correct. A statements which is not true is called false, although certain statements can be proved to be rigorously undecidable within the confines of a given set of assumptions and definitions. Regular two-valued logic allows statements to be only true or false, but fuzzy logic treats “truth” as a continuum which can have any value between 0 and 1.”

  • “Why were you created?” which it translated to “Why are you here?”

“I am doing computation for the world.”

6.   After watching Conrad Wolfram’s TEDxBrussels talk, respond to the following question: is it cheating to use Wolfram Alpha in math homework?

To a certain extent, I think the only one the student would be cheating is him or herself. Yes, students are expected to know how to do things like graph a cosine wave by hand by looking at its function, but after a certain amount of time, it just gets repetitive. Once the student adequately knows how to do a certain mathematical trick, they should be allowed to have the computer do it for them in the future to save time. But, it is up to the student when he or she decides they are comfortable with their knowledge of the mathematics they are learning. If they begin using Wolfram Alpha too early, they are cheating themselves which come back to bite them in the butt.

7.   After reading this article, describe your thoughts about it. If you can find an interesting tweet, video or cartoon about Siri, include that too.

Although Siri is a fantastic idea, much like Wolfram Alpha, it has yet to be perfected. There are many flaws to Siri which include misunderstanding, lack of ability to interact with humans, and in Hawaii, it does not understand Hawaiian things (street names, businesses, names, etc.).

Unlike Google, though, it can (theoretically) do many things at one time whereas you must Google each piece of information you would like separately. But, are humans getting too lazy? We already have the ability to Google anything we want. Are we becoming too lazy for even doing two searches vs. one question to Siri?

This tweet is interesting because people (even jokingly) are beginning to think of Siri as this woman more than a machine or a robot. According to this woman, Yvette, she is going to revert back to her “old” ways of Googling something herself instead of just asking Siri. Yes, I know this specific tweet is a joke, but what if our way of thinking shifts to something extremely similar to this?


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