The blog reviewed here is the ‘Wolfram Alpha Blog‘. I’ve chosen this blog because if Wolfram Alpha fulfills it’s potential, then it will have an impact on many different areas including psychiatry both directly and indirectly. I’ve already taken a closer look at Wolfram Alpha (see first part of review here) and the approach taken here is one which can influence our relationship with information. This blog gives the reader an insight into the many applications of Wolfram Alpha. The blog started in April 2009 with this post just prior to the launch of Wolfram Alpha. Wolfram Alpha is described as a ‘computational knowledge engine’ which responds to a person’s request by referencing a database or relevant information and transforming this data so as to best answer the question. The aim of the project is described thus
‘to make all computable, factual knowledge available to everyone. What Wolfram|Alpha does is compute on top of those facts – answering questions, solving equations, providing insights, projecting future behaviors and more‘
Steve Wolfram himself explains the idea behind Wolfram|Alpha in this post. Leibniz co-creator of calculus (independently of Newton) had suggested that ‘human discourse’ could be represented ‘using logic and mathematics’ and that ‘somehow there must be a way to mechani(s)e the resolution of all human arguments’. This is a very difficult suggestion to comment on, other than there is possibly an implicit assumption that human brain activity is ultimately based on a mathematical logic in whatever form that is manifest*.
Returning to the blog, here some of the developers talk about how Wolfram Alpha is being developed – a reminder that the project is ongoing with new data being added and feedback being received. It will be interesting to see how the searches change through time as a result. Here is a description of how Wolfram Alpha can be used in the calculation of calorific requirements although this might be complicated by other factors. These are early days for Wolfram Alpha but it will be interesting to see how this develops.
*I will speculate a little here and much of this may clearly be wrong but much can be learnt from making such mistakes also. As the brain responds to the environment it is not an entirely closed system from an information perspective but an implication of this would be that it takes information in whatever format it is in and transforms it through a series of mathematical operations at whatever level this takes place. This in turn would suggest that Chomsky’s deeper language structure is mathematical in nature. To take this further, if grammar was a mathematical structure then language is a means of transforming information from the world into a shared ‘mathematical’ representation. Part of this mathematical language would be intonation and would explain the highly structured pattern of some forms of music, music being analagous in some senses to vocal production. The type of language in certain situations – hunting for instance would represent visuospatial and other relevant data in contrast with other situations where another type of interpretation of state of mind would generate metamathematical languages. Furthermore a noted observation that children raised using Pidgin English are able to develop correct grammatical structures without the type of supervision that might be expected to result in the development of such skills. The use of a highly structured mathematical interpretation of the world would also predict that some information might be misinterpreted due to such transformations. Of course as this is speculation there may be many holes in all of this. There needs to be convincing evidence and so these conjectures must be tested and since many are contained above there is a lot of work that would need to be done in order to separate this from the realms of opinion where it currently rests. Finally it is not sufficient to use the term ‘mathematical so vaguely. Even if parts of the above were correct at some level without a more precise specification it is without evident utility.
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