Monday, March 3, 2008

With Web 3.0, Artificial Intelligence Makes Decisions For You!

World-Wise Web? Finally On The Horizon Are Computers That Can Reason
By Richard Waters
Financial Times

Predicting where the next big disruptive change in the technology industry will come from is a perilous business. Google’s rise has been as much a result of its business model innovation as its technological supremacy. By using advertising to support its internet services, it may eventually be able to pull the rug from under Microsoft in more traditional software markets.

It seems a fair bet, though, that some of the biggest fortunes will continue to be made in Google’s area of focus: finding and manipulating information gathered from the world wide web. To hear the optimists in Silicon Valley describe it, a new wave of technology is on the way that will leave Google’s early advances in its wake.

This technology draws its inspiration, and some of its techniques, from a field that has provided more than its fair share of disappointments over the years: artificial intelligence (AI). Based on a collection of technologies that includes natural language processing, image recognition and expert systems (programs that try to emulate the skills of experts), AI is a 50-year-old dream that was meant to lead to intelligent machines.

As Google shows, being able to return a string of websites in response to a query can give rise to a multi-billion dollar business. With so much at stake, even small incremental improvements on the road to AI may create big business opportunities.

The movement already has a name: Web 3.0.

The basic building block for this new technology movement is something known as the “semantic web”. This has become one of the most controversial, and misused, terms in the internet industry, conjuring up as it does a vague promise that meaning will somehow become part of the medium.

In reality, the semantic web is based on a defined and narrow – even if still highly ambitious – set of goals. It is the brainchild of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the present web, a collection of documents connected by links using hypertext mark-up language. Tracing those links, companies such as Google are able to identify documents that are likely to be most relevant to a particular search – though they can only point to the document, not dig deeper to find the actual information that is being sought.

To overcome this, Sir Tim imagined a new web formed by linking the data contained inside the documents. That way the data, not just the documents, would become accessible to machines. Riding this network of links, computers would be able to follow related ideas from one website to another and draw together related information. A reference to Sir Tim in Wikipedia, the collaborative online encyclopaedia, could for instance be connected directly to his name in this article on and to his personal social network on Facebook.

“If you put data on the web about yourself in this form, I can pull data about you,” he says. Subject to privacy and other restrictions, the web itself would in effect become one vast social network, tracing links between people, or between people and things, that were previously invisible.

“We’re trying to create a useful point of view,” says Mr Hillis, whose latest company is seeking to build what it calls an “open, shared database of the world’s knowledge”. Investors including Goldman Sachs have put more than $50m into the company. Known as Freebase, it has a database designed to operate similarly to Wikipedia. It tries to outline standard definitions that are then made available for anyone to access and link their own data to over the web.

Further in the future, adding a degree of reasoning to the software may enable it to filter and select information. That may start off simply – acting on your behalf, for instance, a software agent sets out across the web to compare prices for a product and identify the lowest. Eventually it may lead to making decisions on your behalf. As Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, told the FT last year: “The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question, such as ‘What shall I do tomorrow?’ and ‘Which job shall I take?’”

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