Stephen Wolfram has given notice that “Something Very Big Is Coming" with the introduction of a new symbolic programming language.
In essence, this new language has the potential to allow a natural expression of intent or action. With other computer languages, a great deal of work and thought is required to build up data structures in particular formats so the computer can “process” things or offer users the ability to manipulate or visualize data of specific types. Hence we have separate word processing and image processing and music software. We have separate spreadsheet and database tools. The work of building all these data-type specific software tools has required specialized skills: programming, database administration, user interface design. The Wolfram Language may wrap the lower-level implementation of these computer-oriented tasks in an interpreted higher-level language which just does what we tell it to do. The words of the language become commands for action.
See Spot Run
Imagine the creative possibilities of a language which could take “See Spot Run” as a command to generate an animation of a running dog. Such language already works in our heads. The input triggers processes which cause us to “see” (visualize or imagine) that “Spot”, a dog, is moving quickly (running). Computer languages typically don’t have this expressive power due to ambiguities of meaning. “See Spot Run” could also be a complaint you make to your dry cleaner about the ketchup stain on your tie: Notice Stain Grew-larger.
The whole point of the first computer programs was to calculate the answer. IBM’s Watson has shown how a computer can play the game Jeopardy! by entertaining many possible answers and, effectively, guessing at which one is best. The guesses may not always be correct, but the “thinking” behind the answers has the advantage of being fast, vast and at least somewhat transparent. When the system “explains” how it arrived at the results, misunderstandings can be clarified. For example, with the new Wolfram Language, if “See Spot Run” is too ambiguous then “See Dog Run” might resolve the ambiguity.
MOOCs or MOOQS?
Ubiquitous computing — the idea that we can now have unlimited, any time, anywhere access to computing resources — implies learning experiences could be atomized. We might not need a course in anything if we can get answers to all our questions on demand. Thus, the potential exists for Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to be replaced by Massively Open Online Question Systems (MOOQS). Google Search and Stackoverflow are two examples, both of which depend on some human having worked out and posted an answer for others to find. The Wolfram Language may ultimately be able to interpolate between human-generated answers, making it possible to ask the system novel questions which tap into the language’s algorithms to compute novel answers. Such computing promises “intelligence amplification” — rather than “artificial intelligence” — as it offers convenient and natural access by humans to algorithmic power without requiring artificial expression of the intent in computer code.