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Confessions of a production rule vendor (part 2)

Going on 5 years ago, I wrote part 1.  Now, finally, it’s time for the rest of the story.

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Robust Inference and Slacker Semantics

In preparing for some natural language generation[1], I came across some work on natural logic[2][3] and reasoning by textual entailment[4] (RTE) by Richard Bergmair in his PhD at Cambridge:

The work he describes overlaps our approach to robust inference from the deep, variable-precision semantics that result from linguistic analysis and disambiguation using the English Resource Grammar (ERG) and the Linguist™.

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Google vs. Facebook and Bing (again)

Almost a year ago, I wrote about semantics and social networking as threats to Google.  In that post, I referenced a prior article on investments in natural language processing, such as Microsoft’s acquisition of Powerset, which is now part of Bing.

Today, there are two articles I recommend.  The first addresses the extent to which Google’s Superbowl ad is a response to the threat from Bing.  The second addresses Facebook overtaking Google.

Is Freebase worth much?

There has been some speculation that Freebase is a vehicle for Metaweb to prosper from its semantic web infrastructure when used for commercial purposes.  As I recall, Metaweb raised over $40 million in Series B around the time they started building Freebase. The investment was led by Goldman Sachs.  Metaweb’s seasoned investors were unlikely to invest so much in a business that cannot project a return on that investment.  Almost certainly, Metaweb has firm plans for realizing over $100 million in revenues.  Most likely, for these investors and the amount of capital, target revenues by 2014, five years after the second round, would be in the vicinity of $1 billion.  Obviously, there is a lot of work to get there from around zero today.

Some of the bubble in raising those funds has burst.  The economy would crimp the valuation and investment if made today.  And the semantic web has yet to produce a winner, so with less enthusiasm, the investment would again be less favorable today.  All this is modulo the business plan.  If the business plan withstands scrutiny and the rate of return from credibly achievable projections justifies investment, they could get the money again, even now.  But no one that I have heard or read over the past few years can explain the business plan adequately – that is, concretely.  I would appreciate any insights or opinions on the topic.  I believe these are smart people, in the company and among its investors, so I am sure it is there.  I just don’t believe in the “we’ll figure out how to make money eventually” business plan in this case.

Some Freebase terms that are worth knowing but are commercially reasonable for any site that provides a free service include:

  1. The terms of service are subject to change (upon posting).
  2. The service may be changed or discontinued at any time and without notice.
  3. Limits concerning access to or use of the services may be established.
  4. Any disputes shall be heard in San Francisco and governed by California law.

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Google follows Microsoft’s lead towards intelligence

Being a fan of increased intelligence on the web, including Bing’s use of Powerset and True Knowledge, I enjoyed cnet’s report, “Google search gets answer highlights and events.”

Google now shows the following “The Empire State Building rises to 1250 ft (381 m) at the 102nd floor” in response to the classic semantic web test question.

Also, Google leverages more of the content of text or structure of linked data in its Rich Snippet answers:

Rich Snippet shows Google "understands" events

As search engines increase their understanding of concepts and how to extract them from content or linked data and present them as Google does here or above in a sentence, the web will begin to feel a lot smarter. 

As these simple enhancements indicate, the intelligent web is taking off and that feeling of intelligence will come sooner than expected.  Of course, there is a long way to go.   For more on that, I here there is an upcoming issue of AI Magazine that will survey the state of the art in question answering, including coverage of Vulcan’s Project Halo and IBM’s Jeopardy effort, among others.  Also, if you are interested in what bright minds are looking forward to in this regard, see Nova Spivak’s recent blogging and his post on “will the web become conscious?”

The Semantic Arms Race: Facebook vs. Google

As I discussed in Over $100m in 12 months backs natural language for the semantic web, Radar Networks’ Twine is one of the more interesting semantic web startups.  Their founder, Nova Spivak, is funded by Vulcan and others to provide “interest-driven [social] networking”.  I’ve been participating in the beta program at modest bandwidth for a while.  Generally, Nova’s statements about where they are and where they are going are fully supported by what I have experienced.  There are obvious weaknesses that they are improving.  Overall, the strategy of gradually bootstrapping functionality and content by controlling the ramp up in users from a clearly alpha stage implementation to what is still not quite beta (in my view) seems perfect. 

Recently, Nova recorded a few minute video in which he makes three short-term predictions: (more…)