[Humanist] 23.10 various: Wolfram-Alpha; trends in e-book publishing

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Fri May 8 07:08:34 CEST 2009

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 23, No. 10.
         Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    amsler at cs.utexas.edu                                      (34)
        Subject: Wolfram-Alpha: Web-based numeric Question-Answering

  [2]   From:    amsler at cs.utexas.edu                                      (24)
        Subject: Trends in e-book publishing

        Date: Thu, 07 May 2009 11:36:14 -0500
        From: amsler at cs.utexas.edu
        Subject: Wolfram-Alpha: Web-based numeric Question-Answering
        In-Reply-To: <20090507102115.aklcyrrdogks8k0w at webmail.utexas.edu>

The first news story I read about this was so badly garbled by the  
reporter who didn't have a clue as to what was new about it that I  
almost discounted the whole project, but fortunately someone pointed  
me to Doug Lenat's excellent review of what Stephen Wolfram (creator  
of the Mathematica software) is about to go public with on the web.


It's quite logical that automating the retrieval of numeric data  
answers from existing information on the web could be done. It is also  
quite logical that a computer can perform calculations over sets of  
numeric values quite easily i.e., we call it a spreadsheet). The time  
may have arrived when combining both tasks in one web-accessible  
software application will become available.

So, we'll go from being able to find out how much taller the Eiffel  
Tower is than the Washington Monument by downloading the two Wikipedia  
articles, finding the heights and doing the math ourselves to just  
asking the question directly and having the answer computed for us.  
You can't store all the possible answers or questions---you have to be  
able to compute them. For example, suppose you wanted to know, "What  
man-made structure was the tallest on Earth for the longest period of  
time?" That's tricky as you'd need to know both the dates and heights  
for the tallest man-made structures, and then calculate the  
differences in their dates of existence. (My guess would be the  
Pyramids in Egypt?). But it could get harder if you specified yet  
another limit, say "What man-made structures were the tallest on Earth  
for more than 50 years?" Now, the playing field is leveled for modern  
construction and the work load is higher.

Numeric questions are within the grasp of full automation far more  
readily than questions whose answers are entirely textual ("What  
fruits were known to colonists at Jamestown? or "Where were bananas  
available in the 17th century?)

True numeric question answering may be about to appear (rather than  
(1) looking up the words and retrieving the best matching text pages  
(i.e., a browser search) or (2) looking for a match to a previously  
stored question string.

        Date: Thu, 07 May 2009 10:21:15 -0500
        From: amsler at cs.utexas.edu
        Subject: Trends in e-book publishing
        In-Reply-To: <48B32E4F.9050609 at mccarty.org.uk>

The introduction of the new Kindle DX has brought to light some  
background news about trends in the e-book publishing field. Here's an  
extract from a Christian Science Monitor news story that Humanist  
readers might find interesting:


The Christian Science Monitor

By Chris Gaylord | 05.06.09


"A e-book boom"

Bezos admits that he still has a long way to go before fulfilling his  
dream of “every book ever printed in any language, all available in  
less than 60 seconds.” But Kindle has opened up a blossoming market  
for Amazon. The NYTimes notes that: “Today there are 275,000 books  
available for the device. On Amazon.com, 35 percent of sales of books  
that have a Kindle edition are sold in that format.”

And yesterday the (Christian Science) Monitor reported that “The  
Association of American Publishers (AAP), the industry’s primary trade  
group, has tracked digital book sales since 2003, when wholesale  
revenues amounted to $20 million. By 2007, that number had ambled up  
to $67 million. But in 2008, the figure nearly doubled to some $113  
million. This year is off to an equally heady start, says Ed McCoyd,  
director of digital policy for AAP, pointing to the whopping 173  
percent jump in sales from January 2008.”

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