In yesterdays' blog I suggested that the biggest impediment to getting something working that usefully connects us directly to some kind of world wide information web is going to combine data storage with information personalization. The problem, of course, is that I couldn't care less what your puppy's name is if I don't know you - but do care that my neighbours all know where Rain (42 pounds of eeerie Malamute at 17 weeks) belongs.
The guy who created Mathematica, Stephen Wolfram, is about to unleash the results of something else he's been working on: something that perfectly fits the multiple automata model he developed in A New Kind of Science. Known as Wolfram Alpha, it's partially an attempt to do better at search through the repeated application of small bits of knowledge.
Here's his challenge statement:
Fifty years ago, when computers were young, people assumed that they'd quickly be able to handle all these kinds of things.
And that one would be able to ask a computer any factual question, and have it compute the answer.
I'd always thought, though, that eventually it should be possible. And a few years ago, I realized that I was finally in a position to try to do it.
No matter how Alpha gets built it has to have three broad components:
Replace that slow and clumsy natural language interface with whatever the kind of personal information link discussed yesterday will need for high speed, high reliability, queries; and what you have is the beginnings of an easily distributed cloud architecture for all those putative data jobbers.
And will that work tomorrow? probably not - but come back in twenty years and I think people will be pointing at NKS and Alpha as the foundations for a whole new kind of cloud: one that identifies Rain to a passing cop, and lets me, on arriving at some airport somewhere, ask the lost baggage clerk how his dog is, by name.