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"Microsoft Acquires Powerset": Why a Semantic Web Will Be Smarter, Faster & All-Around Better

Semantic_webMicrosoft's acquisition of Powerset signals a the building of a future when the entire world will likely have access to virtual “software agents” who will “roam” across the Web, making our travel arrangements, doctor's appointments and basically taking care of all the day-to-day hassles for humankind. It’s a great vision, but it will never be achieved with today's current Internet.

As much as we’ve come to know and love the current World Wide Web—we have to admit that it isn't very smart. One webpage is the same as any other. It might have a higher “ranking”, but there's no distinction based on actual meaning. That’s why many Internet wizards believe it is time for Web 3.0, or the “semantic Web”. It’s one of the hottest buzzwords in computer science today. Why? Because it promises to bring order to chaos, and make our lives simpler.

Indeed, the Web we have now is a cloud of largely undifferentiated information, but companies like Metaweb Technologies and Radar Networks have an ultimate goal of building a semantic Web structure that would turn all that disarray into a neatly archived library. Think of it as a semantic Wikipedia—for all of the world's knowledge.

A new generation of techies is already in the early stages of developing a semantic Web ("Semantics" is the branch of linguistics concerned with meaning), which will act more like a series of connected databases, where all information resides in a structured form. Within that structure is a layer of description that adds meaning that the computer can understand. To build this smarter Web, innovators are looking for ways to get machines to do the dirty work for us.

Right now the current Web’s fundamental flaw is that it's just a compendium of billions of text documents, which are designed to be read by human beings. You can search it with keywords, but the results aren't useful until you complete the arduous task of sorting through all the “junk” yourself in order to find the page that has the particular info you want. Services like Google help us sift, but it's still up to people to sort through seemingly endless search results. Indeed, the web does seem like a hopelessly sloppy mess at times. Alas, machines could technically do the “dirty work” for us, and much more quickly and efficiently at that.

In order to take it to the next level, and move from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0—the information in documents will have to be turned into data that machines can read and evaluate autonomously. Only then will computers be able to take over tasks we now have to do ourselves, such as find the nearest restaurant, book the best flight, or buy the cheapest video game.

Think of it as the difference between two dimensions and three dimensions. "People will see the Web start to become smarter," says Nova Spivack of Radar Networks. "Eventually it will have some reasoning capabilities built into it."

For Spivack, the semantic Web begins now with the data engine and user applications he and his team are prepping for launch—and ends at some point in the future with artificially intelligent software agents handling all the online drudgery of our business and professional live.

A semantic Web would be very disruptive. Some say it will wield the power to unseat today's Internet titans like Google, and Yahoo. It's being vigorously pursued by startups like Garlik, Metaweb Technologies, Powerset, and ZoomInfo, as well as bigger corporations like Eli Lilly, Kodak, Oracle, including Google and Yahoo themselves.

So what type of backgrounds is needed to have a fighting chance of developing something this incredible? A deep expertise in statistics, bioinformatics, and artificial intelligence is a starter. Knowing how neural transmitters work in the brain might be helpful as well. Obviously it will have to be a collaborative effort from experts in many fields. Again, for the semantic Web to work, online information needs to be made readable by machines.

Right now the semantic Web is still a work in progress. Don't expect a sci-fi software agent that takes care of your every whim just yet warns Spivack. "Those people who think we will be offering Hal 9000 when this goes public will be disappointed," he says. But it’s a start!

Posted by Rebecca Sato

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Why exactly do you think bioinformatics is a relevant technology for consumer search?

Why exactly do you think bioinformatics is a relevant technology for consumer search?

I agree with the writer, one can learn a great deal from nature - biology - how brain works. After all this is the thing we ultimately want to connect to the web :-)

There is quite a bit of confusion about different levels of functionality possible. One is: expressing semantics and using it (level A - say) and ability to manipulate semantics (level B - say) that is Artificial Intelligence. AI is much more difficult to crack as it needs, we think, processing power of the brain which is more than the fastest computer and especially suited to this type of stuff.

ThoughtExpress (.com) will launch soon a semantic human interface technology that addresses level A. It will be an information locator (not search) entirely based on semantics and one will be able to run enterprises in its semantic space. We are already running some large financial enterprises using semantics. In other words, unlike the current efforts like PowerSet etc, that connect and locate things, it will actually execute.

Very true. Though I love Google, it needs some improvement.

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So, if Web 2.0 failed to change anyone's life significantly, what makes you think so about Web 3.0 ?

Outstanding! Well written article indeed.


@The Skeptic

Because Web 2.0 was just marketing buzz and hype around already existing technologies.

Web 3.0 is a change in how we structure information on the Web. It's not just neonn colors with dropshadow logoes.

I have seen some of the early attempts to build a robotic meta agent. All that is does is to suggest the right answer to an incomplete question.

I guess the current Internet would be much better at answering questions, if the amount and the quality of content increases.

This reminds me of the inverse tachyon beams that Enterprise used to fire. An agent doing everything for us based on our vague and undefined needs, web gains semi-consciousness and thinks about something important, search lists relevant results even thou we are not really sure what we want…

Let’s get crazy and say that knowledge of “how neural transmitters work in the brain” will bring wireless directly from brain to web. Now that is the way to make doctors appointment.

Hal 9000 tried to kill David. Why would we want that? How much control do we want to give to machines?

Neurotransmitters are small molecules that are released from presynaptic vesicles in response to a synaptic depolarization. They diffuse across the presynaptic cleft rapidly, causing various effects especially including postsynaptic depolarization (e.g., the spread of current from the pre- to postsynaptic neuron).

So wtf does that have to do with the semantic web???

There are millions of separate web pages, blogs, etc. on the internet. With their own structure, databases and so on. So how will we structure those?

I know, build a human brain...FUCKING DUH!

We need some kind of central database of all knowledge that's well organized and neuro-categorized. And what about design, will Web 3.0 be one network that always gives you the answer you need without meaningless search on websites with different designs?

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Outstanding post about "Microsoft" building a robotic meta agent, how about Web 3.0? will it catch on better then the 2.0?

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