I’m a big fan on Stephen Wolfram and his efforts in building Mathematica and pushing forward his approach to scientific discovery, A New Kind of Science. In a recent post, Popular Science editor Mark Jannot talks to Wolfram about big data, human understanding, and the origin of the universe.
Here’s just on back-and-forth between Jannot and Wolfram:
Jannot: A couple years ago at TED, Tim Berners-Lee led the audience in a chant of “More raw data now!” so he’s out there trying to create the data Web. And your project in Wolfram Alpha is not to deliver raw data but to deliver the interface that allows for raw data to turn into meaning.
Wolfram: Yes, what we’re trying to do—as far as I’m concerned, the thing that’s great about all this data is that it’s possible to answer lots of questions about the world and to make predictions about things that might happen in the world, and so on. But possible how? Possible for an expert to go in and say, “Well, gosh, we have this data, we know what the weather was on such-and-such a date, we know what the economic conditions at such-and-such place were, so now we can go and figure something out from that.” But the thing that I’m interested in is, Can one just walk up to a computer and basically be able to say, “OK, answer me this question.”
This part of the Q&A is particularly interesting, since it highlights a difference of approach in what some want in technology. Berners-Lee seems to want more “raw data”, while Wolfram is highlighting that the data isn’t really important unless you can turn the data into actionable information. Wolfram|Alpha does just this – the technology uses Wolfram’s understanding of computation (what he built as part of his wildly successful Mathematica product line) and lets us answer questions.
It’s an incredibly rich article – one worth reading (1) if you’re interested in data and where its taking us, and (2) if you’re interested in Wolfram and his take on science and technology. I’m interested in both, so I think it’s very worth highlighting…
Here’s the Popular Science article, and another post to Wolfram|Alpha that highlights the history of computable knowledge (you can even order a poster of the timeline here…). I’ve had a number of other posts on Wolfram and his scientific approach, which might worth looking into as well…