Friday, 29 June 2012

Computation meets knowledge

The final session yesterday was a talk from Conrad Wolfram, strategic director and European co-founder and CEO of the Wolfram group of companies. He is the person behind Wolfram Alpha.

He was great!  Started by explaining that we'd gone from a situation where knowledge was difficult to get, to a situation where we are overloaded with information  and we find it difficult to get to what we need. It's going to get worse! Data will soon be bombarding us from everywhere. Everything from personal medical devices monitoring everything about us, to domestic appliances, not forgetting government data and financial data.

He believes that Computation is the answer and that Computation is for everyone!

Wolfram alpha is a computational engine, and he demonstrated some of the queries it can do in real time - such as calculating the  GDP of the UK. Then comparing it with BP's share price. My favourite was when he put in cous cous plus rhubarb. Try it. you get all sorts. Or, you can just ask it,  "Am I drunk?"and it will bring up a blood alcohol calculator.

They've launched a format for interactive documents called CDF - the computable document format.
So, you don't get dead documents, but you can change stuff on them and it recalculates the answer. Really useful for things like pension statements.
There's some great apps on the Wolfram demonstrations site. Go have a look.

I was impressed that he demonstrated live app authoring, on stage. Took about 60 seconds:

A good question - how many of us can ask  linguistic questions of our ERP systems? Can we say to SAP, "how much holiday have I got left?" The answer is clearly no, but he believes this is the way we should be going.

Finally, he talked about how he believed that we had to change our education paradigm, especially in Maths. Summed up in this TED talk:

Great end to a great day.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

1 comment:

Mike Croucher said...

Does Sheffield have a site license for Mathematica? Wolfram Alpha is very tightly integrated into Mathematica and it can be used for some very cool stuff!