Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Danny Hillis has an addendum to "Arisotle: The Knowledge Web"

Danny Hillis has published an addendum to his May 2004 essay on Edge that was entitled "Arisotle: The Knowledge Web" which summarizes his efforts at his new company Metaweb to produce a freely accessible universal knowledge database:

In retrospect the key idea in the "Aristotle" essay was this: if humans could contribute their knowledge to a database that could be read by computers, then the computers could present that knowledge to humans in the time, place and format that would be most useful to them.  The missing link to make the idea work was a universal database containing all human knowledge, represented in a form that could be accessed, filtered and interpreted by computers.

One might reasonably ask: Why isn't that database the Wikipedia or even the World Wide Web? The answer is that these depositories of knowledge are designed to be read directly by humans, not interpreted by computers. They confound the presentation of information with the information itself. The crucial difference of the knowledge web is that the information is represented in the database, while the presentation is generated dynamically. Like Neal Stephenson's storybook, the information is filtered, selected and presented according to the specific needs of the viewer.

John, Robert and I started a project,  then a company, to build that computer-readable database. How successful we will be is yet to be determined, but we are really trying to build it:  a universal database for representing any knowledge that anyone is willing to share. We call the company Metaweb, and the free database, Freebase.com. Of course it has none of the artificial intelligence described in the essay, but it is a database in which each topic is connected to other topics by links that describe their relationship. It is built so that computers can navigate and present it to humans. Still very primitive, a far cry from Neal Stephenson's magical storybook, it is a step, I hope, in the right direction.

The original Aristotle essay is well worth reading.

There is a related article in The New York Times by John Markoff entitled "Start-Up Aims for Database to Automate Web Searching" about Hillis, Metaweb, and Freebase.

My own ruminations on the concept of a Knowledge Web can be found in my white paper entitled The Consumer-Centric Knowledge Web - A Vision of Consumer Applications of Software Agent Technology - Enabling Consumer-Centric Knowledge-Based Computing.

-- Jack Krupansky

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