Monday, 16 March 2009

A Wolfram at Google's door

The new Wolfram Alpha search engine takes us one step closer to blending human and computer interactions into a more synergistic existence.

Wolfram, which specialises in mathematical learning tools, has devised a new search engine, due to launch in May, that aims to use natural semantic based language, to allow searchers to write in full questions, to which contextually relevant answers will be provided.

If it works it'll be a major step forward, as most people tend to write natural English into Google et al, not realising this isn't a suitable way to mine for data on the internet.

Wolfram Alpha, as it's called, may bridge that gap.

I've been learning about activity theory recently, together with situated cognition, which state that learning needs to take place in a related environment to the activity at hand; and, that the relationship between the learner, the activity, and the technology used to enable that process to occur (for which  read the Web in this case) is triangular and inter-related. In other words, the technology itself is not a neutral conduit, but becomes in effect an active constituent of the learning process. It's a view that's seen as contentious in some quarters, but there's merit to considering it as one perspective on how learning in the online sphere is developing, and perhaps should be reviewed. Situated cognition itself also emphasises learning as being centred in social interactions, and the notion that the traditional teacher-student, expert-apprentice model of direct knowledge transfer no longer hold true; especially in a web-connected multimedia age

Wolfram Alpha is a good example of how the activities we engage in during online participation, whether with other humans, or powerful databases, is blurring the distinctions between knowledge, fact, and all that lies between.

No comments: