It was during a Samhein party that I bumped in a world expert on machine translation and machine learning. It'll come as little surprise to know that he's off Googlewards.
I don't feel I should blog all the insights I gleamed from this teacher-of-PhDs, as we discussed at the time, information will be key to everything. Information is currency. I was cautioned against doing all those five minute surveys for 50p and the like as all this information can, will be, may already being carefully analysised and if things go wrong could be used against me.
Analysing lots of information is something that computers do well already, especially Google. Google has access to such a wealth of information it could perform a trend analysis on virtually everything. People were worrying about AI long before we realised that such much information could be processed and weighed at once.
This particular soon-to-be-Googler had another challenge and another point of interest. He was interesting in being able to pick up a seismically important piece of news on the first hint of its happening. By the time a piece of news is in the headlines it's old news. If Google News has stories that Tesco was in trouble (fat chance) then it's too late to sell your shares. The key is being able to spot the information the very first time it appears on the Web (or, say, in Gmail or Google Talk) and become aware of the likely consequences. A plunge in the stockmarkets is one such example (combine world beating stock exchange technology with Google's $6bn war chest) but the list goes on all the way up to that political rumour which sparks a war. My "Google contact" (not yet, must apply more beer) has done machine translation work for the military before. Translating from Chinese or Arabic pays well but the real treasure is being able to translate on the fly and then sound the alarm when one call mentions "we'll cut the grass tonight" or some other obscure code word which the computer calculates is likely to be hugely significant.