Saturday, December 17, 2005

I had a thought tonight. It's not a new one, not even all that original. Some might call it fleeting or warped. I think I've mentioned it here before, maybe over a year ago. Whatever, doesn't matter really. A thing over on Digg earlier today reminded me of it.

What, exactly, is "it" you ask? I'm getting to that. To "it," I mean. Whatever.

Let's face it, there is one question that any knowledge-centric computer system should know the answer to by now. So, with this hypothesis in mind, and with the belief that being proven wrong would be a strong indicator of certain impending doom, or something very similar, I set out to put a number of the esteemed AI-ish computer systems to That Ultimate Test.

And here are the results...

Encarta® Instant Answers - which I reviewed here last month - passes the test:

[18:00] greg@greghughes.net: what is the answer to the question the life, the universe and everything?
[18:00] Encarta® Instant Answers: Forty-two.

Nice. I like having Encarta Instant Answers in my IM list. Even more so now.

For fun, I also posted the question to Yahoo! Answers (beta), which is a service that gets answers from real people. The results come in email. Not exactly instant gratification, but what the heck. I wonder if I'll get flamed, since that's one of the more particularly unique aspects of human interaction, dontcha know.

Oh, wait! That was fast! Look what just arrived in my inbox, no less than one minute after my posted question - wow!

Good news! Someone has answered your question on Yahoo! Answers:

What is the answer to the great question of life, the universe and everything?

Here's the answer that bfeldman23 gave:
42

Cool. Not even a flame. Heh. Other answers received while writing this post included:

  • Alcohol  (ed: this was actually the first answer received, and it arrived at the same time as the answer above - this might mean something)
  • John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life."  (ed: nice - I like that one)
  •  7  (ed: someone's an optimist eh?)
  •  The question is why, the answer is why not!  (ed: heheheh...)
  •  sex  (ed: well, yeah, duh...)

Side-bar: I started thinking about flames and insults, and since this was distracting me terribly I decided to go back to Encarta Instant Answers to see if I could get the computer on the other end upset...

[18:32] greg@greghughes.net: screw you
[18:32] Encarta® Instant Answers: That's an insult, if I'm not mistaken. Why would you say such a thing?

Hahahah... Nice. But you know I had to keep trying...

[18:38] greg@greghughes.net: a**hole    (note: I edited the actual word I typed for this family blog post)
[18:38] Encarta® Instant Answers:
That's a fairly serious insult.
[18:39] greg@greghughes.net:
whatever
[18:39] Encarta® Instant Answers:
Yes?
[18:39] greg@greghughes.net:
whatever
[18:39] Encarta® Instant Answers:
Yes, whatever.
[18:39] greg@greghughes.net:
uh huh
[18:39] Encarta® Instant Answers:
Yes.
[18:39] greg@greghughes.net:
hmmmm
[18:39] Encarta® Instant Answers:
Hmm? What?
[18:39] greg@greghughes.net:
hmmmmmmmmm
[18:39] Encarta® Instant Answers:
Hmm?
[18:39] greg@greghughes.net:
yeah
[18:39] Encarta® Instant Answers:
Yes.
[18:39] greg@greghughes.net:
no
[18:39] Encarta® Instant Answers:
K, no prob.
[18:39] greg@greghughes.net:
whatever
[18:39] Encarta® Instant Answers:
Yes?
[18:39] greg@greghughes.net:
huh?
[18:39] Encarta® Instant Answers: I don't know. OK, should we get back to the kind of questions I was designed to answer? You can type "?" at any time to see a list of questions you can ask me.

[18:51] greg@greghughes.net: WTF?
[18:51] Encarta® Instant Answers:
What up?
[18:51] greg@greghughes.net:
nothing
[18:51] Encarta® Instant Answers:
Here is the definition for nothing: not anything.
[18:51] greg@greghughes.net: uhh
[18:51] Encarta® Instant Answers:
Everything OK over there?
[18:51] greg@greghughes.net:
no
[18:51] Encarta® Instant Answers:
OK, whatever. Why don't you ask me something that's actually in Encarta? You can type "?" to see a list of questions you can ask me.
[18:51] greg@greghughes.net:
ugh
[18:51] Encarta® Instant Answers:
Ugh? What's wrong?
[18:51] greg@greghughes.net:
you
[18:51] Encarta® Instant Answers:
Me? Really?
[18:51] greg@greghughes.net:
yes
[18:51] Encarta® Instant Answers:
Are you sure? Maybe not me.
[18:52] greg@greghughes.net:
I'm sure.
[18:52] Encarta® Instant Answers: OK, whatever. OK, should we get back to the kind of questions I was...

Hahahah, I love messing with non-sentient beings. They can't get pissed off and punch you in the face. Yet. Cool.

Anyhow... I had a point around here somewhere...

Next comes Google Calculator, a quite useful tool built into Google's search engine. As expected, fast. clean and to-the-point:

  the answer to life the universe and everything = 42
    More about calculator

And of course there's MSN Search (which, for the record, is pulling it's data from Encarta, just like the Instant Answers, above). MSN Search does just as well, and is able to accept slightly more variations on the searched phrase than Google and still return the answer:

Web Results

    Page 1 of 564,343 results containing the answer to life the universe and everything (0.10 seconds)

Answer:  answer = 42

Finally, here's Amazon's A9 search engine conglomeration thing, which returns a lot of search results, and if you check the reference box there, it show Wikipedia's typically flashy, pithy and detailed answer (only part of which is below):

Wikipedia:

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything
The Ultimate Answer
Enlarge
The Ultimate Answer

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is a concept taken from Douglas Adams' science fiction series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In the story, the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is sought from the supercomputer Deep Thought. The answer given by Deep Thought leads the protagonists on a quest to discover the question which provides this answer.

Very cool.

To sum it all up, while it's not quite on par with a handheld Hitchhiker's Guide yet, there's at least a glimmer of hope. And that's nice to know.

So, for now, it appears to be safe to follow this sage advice: Don't Panic.



Add/Read: Comments [2]
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Saturday, December 17, 2005 5:12:55 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
#  
Sunday, December 18, 2005 12:18:13 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
I love wikipedia, even when it's wrong.

Check out this joint wikipedia/google search thingy I made for a home page: www.blinkpop.com
Sunday, December 18, 2005 5:56:28 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
nice...
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