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Eventually, probably, we will figure out how to have computers make some kind of sense of human language. That will be cool and useful, and will change things.  

But it's a hard problem, and in the short term I think much of the work required is mostly harder than it is valuable. The big current problems I care about in information technology involve letting computers do things computers are already good at, not beating human heads against them hoping they'll become more human out of sympathy.  

So I'm already not the most receptive audience for Powerset, the latest attempt at "improving search" via natural-language processing. I don't think "search" is the problem, to begin with, and I don't think "searching" by typing sentences in English is an improvement even if it works.  

And I don't think it works. But make up your own mind. I put together a very simple comparison page for running a search on Powerset and Google side-by-side. And then I ran some. Like these:  

what's the closest star?
who was the King of England in 1776?
what movie were Gena Rowlands and Michael J. Fox in together?
new MacBook Pros today?
who are the members of Apple's board of directors?
what's the population of Puerto Rico?
when is Father's Day?
what was the last major earthquake in Tokyo?"
bands like Enslaved
who is Nightwish's new singer?
who is Anette Olzon?  

and then, because Powerset suggested it:  

who is Anette Olson?  

and then, because Google suggested it:  

who is Annette Olson?  

I think, given these results, it's very hard to argue that Powerset's NLP is doing us much good. At least, not yet. And I'm not their (or anybody's) VC, but I wouldn't be betting a team of salaries that it's going to any time soon.  

[12 August 2008 note: the above queries are all still live, and some generate different results today than they did when I posted this. Powerset now gets Anette Olzon, although they still also suggest Anette Olson despite having no interesting results for it, and it still takes Google to suggest fixing Anette Olson to Annette Olson.  

The most bizarre new result, though, is that currently the Powerset query-result page for "what movie were Gena Rowlands and Michael J. Fox in together?" is itself the top hit in Google for that query.]
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