November 04, 2007

Solving the mysteries of the ages via semantic search

It's breakfast time here in Reykjavik, and the morning mail includes this from Tim Finin:

AskWiki answers your questions using Wikipedia as its knowledge base. Solve the mysteries of the ages: Where is the source of the Nile? Who shot JFK? Would Kirk beat Picard? Is waterboarding torture? Can computers think? Does P=NP? Is there a God?, Is Jimbo Wales God?. As an extra feature, if you don't like the answer, you can edit the knowledge base to make it so!

I tried the questions in Tim's note, and got these answers:

Where is the source of the Nile?

Origin: Africa.

Who shot JFK?

Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested, in a theatre about 80 minutes after the assassination and was charged by Dallas police for the murder of Dallas policeman J.D. Tippit, before eventually being charged for the murder of Kennedy. Oswald denied shooting anyone, claiming he was a patsy, and was killed by Jack Ruby before he could be indicted or tried.

Would Kirk beat Picard?

As a proper noun, The Kirk is an informal name for the Church of Scotland, the country's national church. The Kirk of Scotland was in official use as the name of the Church of Scotland until the 17th century, and still today the term is frequently used in the press and everyday speech, though seldom in the Church's own literature.

Is waterboarding torture?

Recent torture methods include waterboarding, sexual humiliation and sexual abuse, and the use of dogs against prisoners.

Can computers think?

However, computers cannot "think" for themselves in the sense that they only solve problems in exactly the way they are programmed to.

Does P=NP?

No answer found for the question "Does P=NP?"

Is there a God?

Arguments for and against the existence of God have been proposed by philosophers, theologians, and others. In philosophical terminology, existence of God arguments concern schools of thought on the epistemology of the ontology of God.

The debate concerning the existence of God raises many philosophical issues. A basic problem is that there is no universally accepted definition of God. Some definitions of God's existence are so non-specific that it is certain that something exists that meets the definition; in stark contrast, there are suggestions that other definitions are self-contradictory.

Is Jimbo Wales God?

No answer found for the question "Is Jimbo Wales God?"

Score: 3.5 out of 8.

I made up a question of my own, and got an answer that suggests a future in politics for AskWiki:

Can I edit your knowledge base?

The best knowledge bases have carefully written articles that are kept up to date, an excellent information retrieval system (search engine), and a carefully designed content format and classification structure.

But the follow-up was not so deftly handled:

Do you plan to run for public office?

Niskanen went on to serve on the US Council of Economic Advisors under President Reagan, and his model provides a strong underpinning for the worldwide move towards cutbacks of public spending and the introduction of privatization in the 1980s and "90s.

Concerned about the effects of the hotel's breakfast buffet, I asked "Does herring cause cancer?" and got this stern warning:

The viral promoter or other transcription regulation elements in turn cause overexpression of that proto-oncogene, which in turn induces uncontrolled cellular proliferation.

I guess I'll stick to muesli -- "Does muesli cause cancer?" produces a much less alarming answer:

The term muesli is a diminutive of the Swiss German noun "Mues" (German: "Mus"), a cooking term for a semi-liquid made from raw or cooked fruit that lacks an exact English equivalent, but that is related to mush, paste, compote or the French purée.

Being a kind person, I closed with the traditional slow floater over the plate:

Who killed Cock Robin?

Who killed Cock Robin is a nursery rhyme beginning:

And there AskWiki stopped, apparently too choked with emotion to continue.

[Update -- a much better title over at opendotdotdot: "I'm Sorry Dave, I Can't Tell You That..." ]

[Update -- Fernando Pereira writes:

Answer to Your Question: "What is the best approximation algorithm for traveling salesman?"

Salesman is a 1969 direct cinema documentary film which follows four salesmen as they travel across New England and Florida trying to sell expensive Bibles door-to-door in low-income neighborhoods.

Answer to Your Question: "What did the Michelson-Morley experiment show?"

Better yet, the light emitted in one cavity can be used to start the same cascade in another set at right angles, thereby creating an interferometer of extreme accuracy.


Posted by Mark Liberman at November 4, 2007 03:01 AM