Online Search

What’s the Semantic Web? Watch Jeopardy!

Posted on February 15, 2011. Filed under: Communications, Internet Research, Internet Traffic, Jazz, Marketing, Media, Online Search, Semantic Web, TV, Web 3.0 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Over the past couple of years I’ve attended several presentations on Web 3.0 – aka the Semantic Web – which has been touted as the next great thing online. Unfortunately, the presenters were all tech people who were unable to really explain, “What is it?”

Last night I got a really good idea when I watched IBM’s latest challenge to human intelligence, the computers collectively known as ‘Watson’, play ‘Jeopardy!’ against two of the show’s all-time top winners – Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. The result of the first of three nights of competition was a tie between Watson and Rutter. A stunned Jennings came in a very distant third. (In honor of Watson’s ‘maiden voyage’, today’s tune is Herbie Hancock’s tune of that name played by the composer and a stellar quintet. You’ll finish reading before it’s over, but stick around and listen if you’d like.)

Until last night I had the general sense that the Semantic Web had to do with contextual responses to search queries. In other words, currently search engines simply find keywords in text on web sites and blogs that seem to match a query. Applications on the semantic web would determine the meaning of the query, text or other data and then create connections for the user. Still not so clear.

I did a Google search for ‘example of semantic web search’ and it yielded a mess of results – none of which really answered my curiosity. However, the Wikipedia result offered at least a true vision of the Semantic Web as described in 1999 by Tim Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web Consortium and coiner of the phrase. In an online parallel to Martin Luther King’s famous speech, he said:

“I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A ‘Semantic Web’, which should make this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The ‘intelligent agents’ people have touted for ages will finally materialize.” (Interesting note: If you click on this ‘intelligent agents’ anchor text it will take you to another Wikipedia page that will confuse the hell out of you. ;-})

Anyhow, last night I watched in amazement as Watson properly interpreted most of the questions, ‘pushed his response button’ and weighed in first with correct answers (actually questions in Jeopardy! terms) in an appealing non-computer-y voice. And I got it! This is what the Semantic Web will mean. Actually it reminded me a bit of Oz behind the curtain.

And an article in today’s Boston Globe described the game show experiment in more specific terms, “IBM scientists launched the Watson project to test whether a computing system could rival a human’s ability to answer questions posed in natural language with speed and accuracy. The “Jeopardy!’’ format was chosen because the game’s clues require analyzing meaning, humor, riddles, and other subtleties that humans can process, but are difficult for computers.” Difficult until now it looks like!

I’m looking forward to tonight’s continuation of the man-machine contest and its denouement tomorrow evening. Even though Watson appears to offer an exciting peek into the future, I can’t help but root for Ken and Brad. May the best – er – intelligent agent win!

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