The Answer Engine: How Humans Can Provide Better Knowledge Than Algorithms

Editor’s note: Michał Borkowski is CEO of Brainly, a social learning website.

When you have a question you need answered, do you ask a friend or a robot? The answer to that question used to be easy. But the rise of Siri, Yahoo and Google has ushered in an era in which we turn not to experts but to search engines for answers.

By failing to solicit human responses in the pursuit of information, I believe we are making a big mistake – in relying excessively on this single source, we open ourselves up to a data blind spot.

When the first hand-curated directories of the early web’s few sites added query forms, becoming search engines, they expected users to enter boolean search strings, just like their computer scientist inventors. But the fact that many of us write questions, not fact-focused strings, into search boxes is a dead giveaway. Humans want to use natural language when they solicit help.

“How tall is President Obama?” Through algorithm updates like “Hummingbird,” Google has evolved to recognize such questions and, increasingly, to answer them itself.

However, for an algorithm to answer questions like these it must first have access to plentiful underlying data, structured in a way that it can be queried. This is not the case for the vast majority of search engines and won’t be for some time if ever. Ultimately, meaning most humanized question queries will lead users to static web pages.

Humans want to use natural language when they solicit help.

Now is the time to bring humans back into the web. At a time when the new Internet of Things trend stands to bring many more machines on to the network, we should realize the valuable role we, as operators, can play in our own creation, asking each other for information and supplying it in the spirit of cooperation.

The problem with robotic search engines is twofold. First, search result signposts have inaccurate understanding of timeliness. The algorithms’ trainers have worked hard to focus their attention on fresher web pages. This can down-weight “stale” information, but it can also falsely present very recent results simply on the basis of freshness, overlooking a five-year-old web page that was more relevant.

Second is the depth issue. When I first started using the Internet in the 1990s, I participated in many special-interest forums. It was great to find like-minded users with deep knowledge in niche areas, seeking help and offering support by supplying detailed responses. Sadly, this seems to be a lost era. Today, search engines and networks operate on a web-wide basis, with little understanding of niche knowledge to match the expertise of specialist practitioners.

When you aggregate people, not just web pages, you unleash something wonderful. You allow them to be each other’s search engines and open up deep specialist knowledge and community spirit.

Creating these conditions on today’s web can be tricky. I think many people ask questions of Google, privately, because they are embarrassed to display their lack of knowledge by posing a question on a web they know is all too public.

What’s crucial for creating people-powered human answer engines is the community of users.

Fortunately, several services are overcoming this factor. Yahoo Answers may have earned a poor reputation for the quality of some of its community’s responses. But creating an environment in which no questioner or answerer is discouraged is vital to creating a web in which human peers take on the task of information delivery. Allowing even the simplest question to be posted in a positive environment is what Yahoo has cracked, creating a mechanism that makes users comfortable with their own contributions. The stats don’t lie – Yahoo Answers’ traffic keeps growing, currently at more than 170 million monthly unique users in the U.S.

Quora, a question-and-answer site, has cracked the nut even harder with resident experts and clearly defined guidelines for contributors. Its growth reflects its popularity. In April 2014 it raised an extra $80 million and is valued at nearly $900 million. Traffic to the site in February 2014 neared 2.2 million visitors solely from the U.S. Quora’s global success can be attributed to several factors, but much of its focus is on our culture’s insatiable desire for the truth.

What’s crucial for creating people-powered human answer engines is the community of users. In Brainly’s user base for example, we know that everybody, no matter what their age, has skill and knowledge that can be shared. This is the substance of crowd learning. The need for truth and being part of a learning community is growing, as we’re reconnecting with people, albeit through technology to reach this goal.

It’s refreshing to know that in this seemingly open-ended world of search engines, algorithms and unregulated forums, Q&A platforms with reliable and knowledgeable contributors still have a very large part to play.

Re-Posted from Oct 11, 2014 by Michał Borkowski – link to original article below

The Answer Engine: How Humans Can Provide Better Knowledge Than Algorithms.

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Wireless Display Standards Explained: AirPlay Miracast WiDi Chromecast

HDMI allows you to connect almost any device to a TV or another external display, but HDMI requires a wired connection. You might assume there’d be a well-supported standard for wireless displays, but you’d be wrong.

When it comes to mirroring a device’s screen wirelessly or using it as a remote-control for media displayed on another screen, there is still a wide variety of competing standards fighting it out in the market.

via Wireless Display Standards Explained: AirPlay, Miracast, WiDi, Chromecast, and DLNA.

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More than a million people have signed up to test Windows 10

Thinking about giving the Windows 10 preview build a shot? You aren’t the only one — according to Microsoft, its Windows Insider Program hit one million registrants over the weekend, giving a lot of potential users access to the latest build of its next-gen operating system. Joining the Windows Insider Program doesn’t necessarily translate to an installed preview, but it is the only way to get access to Windows 10 currently. While it’s not clear how many of those millions have installed the OS, Microsoft says it has received over 200,000 pieces of feedback through Windows’ native feedback application.

Microsoft has reason to believe that most of that feedback is from extensive use, not just folks dipping their toe in the OS: its stats indicate that less than half of all installs are running on virtual machines, meaning most of its users installed Windows 10 natively. It also learned that most users are using more than seven apps a day. The team says that it’s currently trying to categorize and process all of the feature requests and feedback its receiving, and promises to continue to revise and improve the OS before launch.

via More than a million people have signed up to test Windows 10.

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Microsoft Patch Tuesday tackles three critical vulnerabilities, including ‘Sandworm’ | PCWorld

After a relatively quiet few months, Microsoft Patch Tuesday is back in full force, covering three zero-day vulnerabilities that administrators should attend to as quickly as possible.

Microsoft issued eight security bulletins Tuesday, covering a total of 24 vulnerabilities found in Windows, Internet Explorer, Office and the .Net framework. Three of the bulletins are marked as critical, which means administrators should test and apply these patches immediately. A single bulletin can cover multiple vulnerabilities within one technology.

Three of these vulnerabilities are already being exploited by malicious attackers, hence they are being called zero-day vulnerabilities. This is the first time in recent history—and perhaps ever—that Microsoft has fixed three zero-day vulnerabilities in a single round of patches, which Microsoft typically issues on the second Tuesday of each month.

“Sandworm” is the most notorious of the three and is a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows that has already been used in attacks on NATO and a number of European government agencies, telecommunication firms and energy companies, according to cyberthreat intelligence firm iSight. Microsoft Bulletin MS14-060 fixes this bug.

“This is an urgent one to fix,” said Wolfgang Kandek, chief technology officer for IT security firm Qualys.

Microsoft marked MS14-060 as important rather than critical because for the attack to work, it would require a user to click on a file. Qualys ranks this vulnerability as more severe in that it is pretty easy to trick a single person into clicking on a file, such as a PowerPoint presentation, which would be all that would be required for an attacker to gain access to an internal network with a well-crafted script, Kandek said.

Sandworm is a good reminder for administrators to make sure that they set the user permissions correctly on desktop and laptop computers, meaning not to give an end user full administrative privileges on the machine, Kandek said.

Internet Explorer gets patched, too

The second zero-day flaw addresses a problem in Internet Explorer and the fix is found in MS14-056. This vulnerability “could allow an attacker to break out of the sandboxing capabilities in Internet Explorer,” said Amol Sarwate, director of vulnerability research at Qualys.

The third zero-day, addressed in MS14-058, also comes from a flaw within Windows, namely from the way the operating system kernel drivers handle TrueType fonts. An attacker could embed some malicious code within a TrueType font. When a user visits a site with these ill fonts, Windows will download the font package and automatically execute the code buried within.

Beyond Microsoft’s patches, administrators will also have a busy week with patches from Adobe and Oracle, Kandek said.

On Tuesday, Adobe released a set of patches for its Flash multimedia player. Oracle is also releasing a wide range of patches for its enterprise software. In particular, administrators should take a look at the Java patches, Kandek advised.

via Microsoft Patch Tuesday tackles three critical vulnerabilities, including ‘Sandworm’ | PCWorld.

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