from the “this is potentially very cool if it works” dept.

Came across this story by chance via an article in a Twine update that I was about to delete. Anyway, I caught the name Wolfram so thought I’d take a peek. The name might ring a bell – it’s Wolfram as in Wolfram Research, as in Stephen Wolfram of Mathematica fame. No slouch when it comes to all things mathematical. In any event, apparently in May he will unveil Alpha which, I gather from the article, is a “computational engine” that will actually compute answers to plain language queries. A brief sampling from the article:

For those who are more scientifically inclined, Stephen showed me many interesting examples — for example, Wolfram Alpha was able to solve novel numeric sequencing problems, calculus problems, and could answer questions about the human genome too. It was also able to compute answers to questions about many other kinds of topics (cooking, people, economics, etc.). Some commenters on this article have mentioned that in some cases Google appears to be able to answer questions, or at least the answers appear at the top of Google’s results. So what is the Big Deal? The Big Deal is that Wolfram Alpha doesn’t merely look up the answers like Google does, it computes them using at least some level of domain understanding and reasoning, plus vast amounts of data about the topic being asked about.

It will be interesting to see how (and whether) it actually performs. Given Wolfram’s credentials, the huge effort (undertaken in stealth mode it seems) and data that has gone into it and the positive articles to date (such as the one below) it does sound very promising.

From a legal perspective, it will be interesting to see how content used in the engine has been utilized and how the rights to such content (assuming there is at least some non-public domain material used) have been dealt with. From a tech perspective, it will be very interesting to see what the iron powering this thing will look like, particularly if it starts getting millions of queries a day, how the underlying algorithms work and the extent to which it can evolve and improve over time (I hesitate to use the word “learn”). And from a biz perspective, it will be interesting to see whether Wolfram takes a google-type approach to revenue generation (i.e. ads) or whether he has something else up his sleeve. Check it out for yourself in May.

via Wolfram Alpha is Coming — and It Could be as Important as Google | Twine.

Thoughts on Quantum Computing

Interesting article in Wired News where they interview David Deutsch who they refer to as the Father of Quantum Computing. He has a kind of low key but interesting take on the recent demonstration of a real, live 16 qubit quantum computer by D-Wave, a Canadian company based out of Vancouver.

Low key insofar as he doesn’t seem particularly enthused about the potential of quantum computers, other than perhaps their ability to be used to simulate quantum systems and of course encryption:

Deutsch: It’s not anywhere near as big a revolution as, say, the internet, or the introduction of computers in the first place. The practical application, from a ordinary consumer’s point of view, are just quantitative.

One field that will be revolutionized is cryptography. All, or nearly all, existing cryptographic systems will be rendered insecure, and even retrospectively insecure, in that messages sent today, if somebody keeps them, will be possible to decipher … with a quantum computer as soon as one is built.

Most fields won’t be revolutionized in that way.

Fortunately, the already existing technology of quantum cryptography is not only more secure than any existing classical system, but it’s invulnerable to attack by a quantum computer. Anyone who cares sufficiently much about security ought to be instituting quantum cryptography wherever it’s technically feasible.

Apart from that, as I said, mathematical operations will become easier. Algorithmic search is the most important one, I think. Computers will become a little bit faster, especially in certain applications. Simulating quantum systems will become important because quantum technology will become important generally, in the form of nanotechnology.

(my emphasis). Interesting thought about being retrospectively insecure. Particularly given spy agencies have, in the past, been sufficiently bold to transmit encoded messages on easily accessible shortwave frequencies.

I imagine the spook shops already have their purchase orders in for quantum crypto stuff (or have developed it already internally). Was a bit surprised by the statement above regarding existing technology for quantum computing. I had heard of some demos a while back, but didn’t realize that there are actually several companies offering quantum cryptography products.