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Google adds factual answers

Hogue's project at Google has started appearing in Google queries -- you can now ask Google for 'facts'. I use the term loosely, referring back to my bastard corollary of doing research: "Any 'sufficiently lazy' Internet search can confirm anything."

I tried out the Google system with some sample queries that Hogue passed along, and I also asked BrainBoost the same questions for comparison, noting the results below. They have very different approaches to how they answer the question, with Google favoring a concise statement of what the answer is (citing a single source), whereas BrainBoost simple returns multiple sentences it believes answers the questions for you, without trying to extract the exact answer. I am preferring the speed and clarity of Google's approach, but neither is perfect -- for both you have to take the answers with a grain of salt.

I had a hard time formulating questions for either system. For example, neither would tell me Paris Hilton's e-mail address or cell phone number (certainly public knowledge by now). They are both also very sensitive to phrasing. For example, Google doesn't know "what is the capital of California," but it does know "capital of California." (correction: Google does answer "what is", but from the Glossary instead) The exact opposite was true of BrainBoost; it could answer "what is the capital of California," but not "capital of California.". Also, Google thinks Mountain View is located in "Mt. CB (condo shuttle bus)," and when I asked it where SRI is, it gave me the location of Sri Lanka.

I've tested the queries Hogue sent me along with some of my own -- you can view the results in the extended entry. One query that I omitted is one that shows that Google knows the birthday of Hogue's daughter -- parsed from Hogue's personal homepage -- demonstrating the potential of Google's approach.

Where is Mountain View

The query was one of my own -- I figured that Google's in Mountain View, it should know this one.

Google: "Mountain View Location: Mt. CB (condo shuttle bus)"

BrainBoost: "Mountain View is located 40 miles south of San Francisco and ten miles north of San Jose.."

Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?

I got this query from Hogue. Google does do a much better job of answering the classic trick question.

Google: "Property: No one actually. Mr. and Mrs. Grant are not buried. Their sarcophagi lie above ground."

Brainboost: "Grants Tomb is a mausoleum containing the bodies of Ulysses S Grant ( 1822 - 1885 ), an American Civil War General and the 18th President of the United States , and his wife, Julia Dent Grant ( 1826 - 1902 )."

What is tom hanks' birthday

Another Hogue query. BrainBoost wasn't even close on this one.

Google: "Tom Hanks Date of Birth: 9 July 1956"

BrainBoost: "SOUTHWELL (AW) (09 Jul 2004) Standard 3:30 Tom Hanks Birthday Selling Stakes (Class G) (G) (2yo)."

What is the state beverage of pennsylvania

Hogue query -- Google and BrainBoost both did well.

Google: "Pennsylvania State Beverage: Milk"

BrainBoost: "Beverage - Milk - 1982 -"

What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

In trying to come up with my own questions, I figured a true test of a factual answering system must be able to answer this classic Monty Python question, "What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?"

Curiously, the AskJeeves easter egg (answer "African or European swallow?") for this is no longer present.

Google: no answer

Brainboost: "And the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow is 45 mph. Found Site: - I used the force &nbspTrinity or Neo: - Trinity - Sark believes that Waldos location is In my shoe, Carmen Sandiegos whereabouts is In Moopys computer, and the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow is 1000000000 miles per hour.."

What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything?

The last of the classic questions I asked. I already knew that Google calculator has the answer to this, so I mainly wanted to see whether the new facts-answers engine would answer instead.

Google: Google calculator answers "the answer to life the universe and everything = 42"

BrainBoost: I won't even attempt to summarize. BrainBoost does give a correct answer, but it also gives many wrong or confusing answers, requiring you to wade through -- not very useful if you actually don't know the answer already.

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