Search Engines, Answer Engines

You’ve seen many “search engines”, including one that has even made its way to become a verb:  “google” is no longer just a site to do searching, but we now routinely use “let’s google that name”.   Nouns become verbs, and verbs become nouns — how many “reads” and “writes” did you do in the past hour?

Are you old enough to remember Altavista?  Alas, it is no longer.

Shodan looks for SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) interfaces – these are the systems that perform industrial operations, including factories and nuclear power plants.   It is used by bad guys to break into systems and potentially disrupt business and factory operations, and it is also used by good guys to find systems that need to be hardened and protected.   Some investigators have found over a million such systems on the public internet.

Wolfram Alpha.   Another kind of search, is something I like to describe as an “answer engine” — Google, StartPage, Bing, and DuckDuckGo perform searches on words and phrases, even finding related ideas and by synonyms.  Which is already kind of neat.  But look at Wolfram Alpha:  one of my favorite things to do is just type in something like “how deep is the ocean” <Enter>.  You get a list of the five oceans, by depth (in feet and miles, or units of your choice).  But even better, there is a link to “Use the input as a music work instead” — that one leads to the lyrics and list of recordings, of the song written by Irving Berlin in 1932.  Can you tell that’s one of my personal faves?   Wolfram Alpha seems to attempt to answer your question, rather than just search for matching patterns.  

Today all you have to do to find quick answers (rather than the detailed information from Wolfram Alpha), is to ask Siri, Alexa, Google Home, Cortana, or even chat with someone’s Replika.

How can I tell you What is in my heart?
How can I measure Each and every part?

How can I tell you How much I love you?
How can I measure Just how much I do?

How much do I love you? I’ll tell you no lie
How deep is the ocean? How high is the sky?

How many times a day Do I think of you?
How many roses Are sprinkled with dew?

How far would I travel To be where you are?
How far is the journey From here to a star?

And if I ever lost you How much would I cry?
How deep is the ocean? How high is the sky?