Yet Another Truth Telling Computer... Haven't We Seen This Before?

from the believe-it-when-I-see-it dept

For years and years and years, we've been hearing about hugely ambitious projects to try to create "thinking" machines that can absorb a ton of information and spit out facts. Yet, every time, when the true tests begin, the project never gets very far, for a variety of reasons. First, the technology usually isn't that good. Having a computer decide what is "truthful" isn't exactly an easy problem -- especially when plenty of humans can't even agree on what is, and what is not, truthful. Second, these companies have failed to come up with a reason why anyone would really want/need to use such a thing. After all, how useful is a "truth" machine compared to a simple search engine? These projects come and go, and there's always someone insisting that the holy grail is on its way. The latest is Stephen Wolfram, something of a high tech oddity. He built a tremendous success with Mathematica and clearly is a sort of techie's techie. That's why it's not as easy to simply dismiss his claims to have created just such a knowledge system. That said, I'm still not convinced there's a particularly good use case for the product -- and, even if it's much better than what's come before, chances are it still has an incredibly long way to go. Wolfram is a super smart guy -- and I do hope he's figured out how to really create such a thing, but given how many similar claims we've seen in the past, it seems only wise to express some significant skepticism.


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  1.  
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    R. Miles, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 4:07am

    One step for innovation, I'd say.

    After all, how useful is a "truth" machine compared to a simple search engine?
    Well, for damn starters, maybe the omission of the top 500 results pointing to an online store?

    Google is notoriously bad about this now. When I want results, I want results, not links to purchase those results.

    Worse is how Wikipedia is now the TOP result on most result searches. I am not particularly fond of Wikipedia as a "result". It's helped a few times, but it's not as useful to me as it is to others, especially given the constant "edit wars" on the site.

    Hell, even if this new system isn't perfect and is only 10% effective, that's 10% better than what any search engine can do.

    Let's just hope the results of Wolfram's idea doesn't spew out tons of online store links or Wikipedia links in the top 100.

    If it does, then it will have no usefulness as a product it's intended to be.

     

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  2.  
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    R. Miles, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 4:12am

    Oh, yeah! A quick follow up...

    Anyone remember the Techdirt story about this search engine:
    http://www.cuil.com/

    Yeah, I had forgotten about it as well.

    This is what you call useless when compared to Google (et al).

     

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  3.  
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    some old guy, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 4:23am

    Re: One step for innovation, I'd say.

    And I get irritated with google when the wikipedia result is not first in the list. This usually means the wikipedia article sucks tho. The fact that you have a fetish against wikipedia is not relevant to google or the way it ranks pages. Perhaps you should start using a filter to exclude the site?

    Any decent search engine is going to have the wikipedia article top or top ten now and well into the future. Better get used to it.

    And google most certainly is not notoriously bad about sending you to storefronts at all, what are you talking about?

    Can you provide some links to back up your claims here?

     

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  4.  
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    David Wynn, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 5:07am

    Algorithmic Truth

    My only concern with this piece is the tone it seems to take against a computer-assisted search for truth. In my opinion, many different sector (I'm especially looking at political news) dialogues could certainly use a little help in determining the truth of statements.

    I would argue that the process doesn't even have to be perfect, but a measure that is clean and transparent and significant could shed greater clarity on issues in debate and have a significant impact on important discussions we have today.

     

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  5.  
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    some old guy, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 5:58am

    Re: Algorithmic Truth

    What you are looking for, David, is a better lie detector. What this article is talking about is a Truth detector. While on the surface it would appear they are the same thing, they take the opposite approach to achieve similar results.

    Computers, with their cold hard logic, are very adept at discerning errors in logical statements. This makes them very good at determining what is incorrect.

    However, they are NOT so good at determining truth. This is because while untruth is clearly segregated from truth, there are many levels of truth, and its quite difficult to distinguish between them, especially for a being not capable of discerning the (emotional) nuances of the facts as they are spoken.

    In the political context, this means: It's easy (for everyone) to spot a lie. It's difficult, for a computer, to spot spin (the contortion of truths), while incredibly easy for a person.

    The only way we can get a computer to make a truth detector, is to first give it an AI capable of irrational reasoning. I'm not sure what advantage that would hold, especially compared to its many monumental downsides.

    I'd like to hope that never comes to pass.

     

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  6.  
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    Anshar, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 6:01am

    There's truth and then there's truth.

    My concern about this sort of technology in general is that the results cannot ever be pure truth. As the article points out, most (if not all) of the time even flesh-and-blood people can't agree on what is truthful. Given that, the best this technology can hope to report is what is true according to the person or people who wrote the software.

    That said, as long as that limitation is understood and they don't try to make this system out be more than it is I think this could be a good innovation. I look forward to seeing how this plays out.

     

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  7.  
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    Shawn.Kneher, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 6:03am

    Coming Next

    A computer that defines beauty!

     

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  8.  
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    David Wynn, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 6:18am

    Re: Re: Algorithmic Truth

    @some old guy:
    While I understand your opinion, I don't necessarily think it's the case.

    To start, I don't think untruth is as easily separable from truth as you suggest. In fact, an error in reasoning towards a statement doesn't necessarily mean the statement is false (ie. the sky is blue because my dad painted it that way), which brings us back around to determining veracity again.

    Second, I'll reiterate what I said earlier: I think a clean, clear measure of truth would benefit discourse even if it was imperfect. Of course, there are problems with whichever philosophy of truth one tries to implement in logic, be it correlative or otherwise... but I think any method would be good, and it wouldn't necessarily involve irrational AI thinking (unless one tries to implement an irrational philosophy of truth).

     

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  9.  
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    Bobby McDoogle, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 6:20am

    Can we ask the robot about God?

    I think this would be the perfect time to ask about whether or not God will be sending his son back to the earth for armigeddon before or after 2012. Maybe this is not the best question, but if we now have the ability to know the truth, we can think of another good question to ask it. Will it possibly know the questions we are going to ask before we ask it though? Where will this end?

     

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  10.  
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    some old guy, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 6:31am

    Re: Re: Re: Algorithmic Truth

    I think a clean, clear measure of truth would benefit discourse even if it was imperfect

    But that takes emotion! You have to be irrational to put truth on a scale and measure it.

    In order to call bullshit on someones contorted truth statement, you have to have a vested irrational (emotion) bias against said statement.

    This is the very foundation of spin doctoring. You can feed any man a line of bullshit (not lies mind you) and get him to gobble it right up as long as you don't give him a reason to doubt it.

    Once again, I think what you are looking for is not a truth meter, but a lie meter, and I believe you are correct in saying that matters of discourse would be well served with a good lie detector.

    Truth itself is irrational.

     

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  11.  
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    TX CHL Instructor (profile), Mar 9th, 2009 @ 7:03am

    Re: One step for innovation, I'd say.

    Different strokes...

    About half the time I search for something, I'm looking for a place to buy it at a good price. That turns out to be more challenging than I want it to be about 80% of the time, and the Google Product Search (formerly Froogle) is also usually a disappointment. As are most of the "price comparison" sites.

    OTOH, I agree about Wikipedia. Wikipedia is something I have in my bookmarks, so listing Wikipedia articles in a Google search is usually (but not always) a waste of my bandwidth.

    Maybe Google could add some sort of general indicator for the type of search desired (background vs. product/price vs. opinion, etc.).
    --
    www.chl-tx.com -- Thanks, BHO, for the fantastic boost you have given to my business!

     

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  12.  
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    TX CHL Instructor (profile), Mar 9th, 2009 @ 7:08am

    Re: Oh, yeah! A quick follow up...

    Interesting thing about cuil is that even though my chl website pops up first for most of the keywords folks would use for my business, the picture displayed on the right is totally unrelated to anything on my site (although the link is correct). Go figure.

    I'm a bit surprised that cuil is still around. I recall they had that same problem back when I first heard of them.
    --
    www.chl-tx.com Without the 2nd amendment, the rest of the document is wishful thinking. Which is why Obama wants to get rid of it.

     

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  13.  
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    Leigh Beadon (profile), Mar 9th, 2009 @ 7:40am

    When did everyone turn into a poet?

    Why are we suddenly trying to determine if this machine is going to succeed at delivering grand sweeping truths to subjective questions? I don't think that was ever the intention... Sure, there are going to be a lot of gray areas even in factual questions, but I don't think W.A. is supposed to declare truths that people have not yet declared.

    Science and history are great example topics: lots of things aren't set in stone but there is still general consensus OR a range of possible answers on certain things. Say I wanted to know when proto-humanoids first emerged on Earth: W.A. could tell me "Most theories place this event between 3-million and 7-million years ago" rather than delivering hundreds of pages explaining and dissecting all these different theories. Sure, there are plenty of situations where that information would be insufficient, but also lots where it would be all I needed to know.

     

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  14.  
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    R. Miles, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 7:41am

    Re: Re: One step for innovation, I'd say.

    Perhaps you should start using a filter to exclude the site?
    And type that filter in EVERY query lookup? Tedious, so I just disregard the first few links listed.

    With all the options given in search options, filter omissions isn't one of them. I wrote Google about adding them, but so far, nothing.

    Any decent search engine is going to have the wikipedia article top or top ten now and well into the future. Better get used to it.
    Sadly, this is true. However, it shouldn't be this way.
    Don't get me wrong, Wiki can be a useful tool within itself, but I GO to Wiki if I want further relevant information.

    It shouldn't be listed as #1 as a "source" just because it has more hits than sites DEDICATED to the relevant topic I'm searching for.

    I believe this is what Wolfram's trying to establish, but showing "truth" over "popularity". Makes perfect sense to me.

    And google most certainly is not notoriously bad about sending you to storefronts at all, what are you talking about?
    Can you provide some links to back up your claims here?

    I think miscommunication is here. You're right, Google doesn't send me anywhere. Google just lists the most "relevant" links to storefronts. *snore*

    @TX CHL Instructor:
    Believe me, I know your frustration, especially when those "top rated" sites aren't what you're looking for.
    Those damn ebay and Amazon links drive me nuts!

    Google isn't perfect and I get that. But what, on the internet, is when searching BILLIONS of sites containing information?
    ;)

     

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  15.  
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    mobiGeek, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 8:10am

    Re: Re: Re: One step for innovation, I'd say.

    And type that filter in EVERY query lookup? Tedious

    This is why the interwebs invented keyword-bookmarks. Create a bookmark for the following URL, assign it a keyword like "g" (Google) and now you search simply typing "g foobar". Create a second like 'gww' (Google With Wikipedia) to get the proper results...

    http://www.google.com/search?q=-wikipedia+%s

     

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  16.  
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    bjc (profile), Mar 9th, 2009 @ 8:40am

    Re: One step for innovation, I'd say.

    For several months now Google has allowed you to tell it which search results you like and which ones are irrelevant to you. If you are signed in, every search result has a light grey up arrow and X after the item. Click UP to promote (tell Google you like) a result, or X to remove it. Removing results gives that site much lower ranking in your future searches.

    As far as the Wolfram thing, I found the answers to all of the 'complicated' questions they say their search system can answer by cutting and pasting the questions directly into Google. All but one of the answers were in the Google search results themselves. ONE of the questions required me to click Google's first result and find it on the linked page.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 8:45am

    I'm waiting for the patent infringement suit from the creator of the magic 8 ball....

     

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  18.  
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    Overcast, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 8:55am

    Google is notoriously bad about this now. When I want results, I want results, not links to purchase those results.


    You're right - Google is going the same way of Yahoo - over commercialized; not so much giving the results you are looking for anymore - unless of course, you have cash to spend.

    I guess the market's ripe for a new, streamlined search engine now. I got a feeling Google will fall as fast as it rose to 'stardom' - AKA Yahoo 2.0

     

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  19.  
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    Arnold, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 9:48am

    Truth or Consequences

    Do we really want a thinking computer to tell us what truth is?

    Isn’t that what SkyNet was all about?

     

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  20.  
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    Hua Fang, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 10:11am

    A codonologist's wish

    A couple years ago after finished reading NKS, I sent Dr. Wolfram an e-mail about my thought of his ideas and possible combining theoretical input of Codonology of mine. I hope that his new tool can bring people a true concept search capability, and even beyond that, an "assisting intelligent" that does reasoning like human with any IQ levels.

     

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  21.  
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    T1000, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 10:17am

    Re: Truth or Consequences

    It is only a matter of time, John Conner.

     

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  22.  
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    batch, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 10:27am

    wait and see

    Don't believe the hype, if history shows anything, people are always talking about how something is revolutionary, while it turns out to be more evolutionary.

    Remember the Segway? We were told that cities would be designed around it!

     

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  23.  
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    mkam, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 11:04am

    Re: One step for innovation, I'd say.

    oogle is notoriously bad about this now. When I want results, I want results, not links to purchase those results.

    I didn't know that you weren't allowed to go choose another search engine that would suit your purposes? Go use Altavista or whatever MS has now if they are better. I personally think Google does an order of magnitude better than almost all of the other search engines.

     

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  24.  
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    tekproxy, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 11:38am

    One Word

    Batman. Need I say more?

     

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  25.  
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    swag, Mar 9th, 2009 @ 5:31pm

    Enter: "Solve the global credit crisis"

    Result: FAIL! FAIL! FAIL!

     

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  26.  
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    Gabriel Weinberg, Mar 21st, 2009 @ 10:08am

    New Search Engine Duck Duck Go

    Hey, also be sure to check out our new search engine, Duck Duck Go: http://www.duckduckgo.com/. More info about us (and why we're better/different) can be found at: http://www.duckduckgo.com/about.html.

    We also have some semantic properties, e.g. ambigious keyword detection: http://www.duckduckgo.com/?q=apple, as well as have zero-click info, e.g. http://duckduckgo.com/?q=Futurama.

    Take care,

    Gabriel Weinberg
    Founder & CEO, Duck Duck Go

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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