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Math The Internet Science

New Company Seeks to Bring Semantic Context To Numbers 264

A new company, True#, is seeking to bring extensive semantic context to numbers to give them obvious meanings just as certain words have obvious meanings to most readers. "Most of us can probably recognize 3.14159 and the conceptual baggage it carries, but how many of us would recognize 58.44? (That's a mole of sodium chloride, in grams, for the curious.) And the response that would work for words — look it up — doesn't work so conveniently for numbers. Only one of the top-10 hits in Google refers to salt, and Bing fails entirely (though it does offer 'Women's Sexy Mini Skirts by VENUS'). Clearly, we haven't figured out how to make the Web work for numbers in the same way it does for words."
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New Company Seeks to Bring Semantic Context To Numbers

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  • Wolfram Alpha (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 10, 2009 @01:35PM (#29014249)

    Wolfram Alpha returned:

    cosh((2 (4+pi))/3)~~58.439252

  • Wikipedia (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 10, 2009 @01:39PM (#29014303)

    Look up any number there, and if it's meaningful in some way you'll find it.

  • Sounds like Marchex (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday August 10, 2009 @01:47PM (#29014437) Homepage

    Marchex [] is a "domaining" company. They're the people behind those "What you need, when you need it" ad-heavy landing pages. [] They tried to buy up all the 5-digit number domains. (So did others; nobody got all of them.) This sounds like a similar idea, only less profitable.

  • by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Monday August 10, 2009 @01:49PM (#29014475)

    Put in "58.44 moles" and you'll have proper answers in the top ten, putting in units makes all the difference for number searches.

    And as for dimensionless numbers, 3.14149 gives wikipedia article for pi, 2.71828 gives wikipedia for e as top answer, even "square root -1" gives i.

    Absolutely false the premise or conclusion of this article. Searching for numbers gives useful information

  • by schnablebg ( 678930 ) on Monday August 10, 2009 @01:53PM (#29014531)

    I have had this need when reverse engineering and debugging algorithms in software. There are magic numbers in the formulas and I have no idea what they mean.

    Additionally, if something like this was rolled into a more generalized search algorithm, it could be used the other way around. Google could know, for example, that a paper with the number 58.44 a lot of times is probably about NaCl even if it is not mentioned explicitly.

  • by Deanalator ( 806515 ) <> on Monday August 10, 2009 @02:29PM (#29015011) Homepage

    Sometimes, in your calculations (in physics class especially for me), you come across what seem to be magical numbers, and later realize it's something like e^5 or something weird like that. It has also been especially startling to me when certain numbers that appear are perfectly clean square or cube roots etc.

    That's the strange thing about irrational numbers, there are only a few unique ones that are interesting. All the others are built from rational numbers, or other more interesting irrational numbers. I personally think this service would be pretty cool if done right.

    I stopped after my undergraduate in math, so I don't really know, but is there any known way to take complicated combinations of more "elemental" irrational numbers (e, molarity, plank's constant, pi, etc) and break it back into it's elements WITHOUT having to enumerate every possibility? For example, if I show you 28.0282616... Is there some magical mathematical way to recognize that it's 17*sqrt(e)? I have met people that seem to be able to do that off the top of their head, but I can't imagine writing a straightforward algorithm to be able to do something like that.

  • by gamefaces ( 1542337 ) on Monday August 10, 2009 @03:48PM (#29015943)

    And when web searches fail to find what you need, Wikipedia often has you covered: []

    I fail to see any results relating to a mole of sodium chloride, in grams.

  • Re:why (Score:5, Interesting)

    by steelfood ( 895457 ) on Monday August 10, 2009 @04:39PM (#29016571)

    You're right. Numbers are the abstract representation of a specific concept. Words are a specific representation of an abstract concept.

    It doesn't make sense to search the other way. Sure, you can search for, say, 58.44 and get relatively few correct responses. However, what if you searched for 10? Or 1024? Then what's supposed to come up?

    Numbers don't have any a priori meaning. They require context. Otherwise, they're just a meaningless abstraction. Context makes 1 and 12 different, or the same (inches in a foot). It doesn't make sense to compare 1 mol of NaCl with 12 light years. As human beings, we can imply context without explicitly stating it. But that doesn't mean we don't need context.

    It's like the difference between mathematics and physics. Pure mathematics is not useful without an application to a physical problem (not to say that there's no purpose to development of pure mathematics).

  • by Jeff Archambeault ( 41488 ) on Monday August 10, 2009 @04:39PM (#29016573) Homepage

    This vaguely reminds me of a website years ago that presented an interactive interface of a huge number line. The page was divided into a couple sections for the zoom level, the closest zoom level showed a bar for the number of entries it had for each individual number (tall=more entries). Clicking on the number would give a list of representations, selecting a representation gave a selection from the web resource the info came from.

    I checked my bookmarks and googled a bit, but does anyone else remember the site, and if so, is it still around?

  • Re:INCORRECT USAGE (Score:3, Interesting)

    by idontgno ( 624372 ) on Monday August 10, 2009 @05:52PM (#29017377) Journal

    "'I don't know what you mean by "glory,"' Alice said. Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. 'Of course you don't- till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"' 'But 'glory' doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument,"' Alice objected. 'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less.'

    Welcome to Slashdot, Mr. Dumpty

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