Google Knowledge Graph: How it Works, How to See if You’re In It

A deeptech dive into Google Knowledge Graph — and how its semantic system differs and is a more closed system than the wide open Freebase system it bought to build it. Great analysis from our Larry Press. Here’s how Google explains it. Compare that with what Larry Press uncovered.

Above, Google’s explanation of Knowledge Graph.

Soon after he created the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee turned his attention to the semantic Web — a Web of data rather than just documents. It is finally coming to widespread fruition, but not in the way Berners-Lee likely envisioned.

At this writing, Berners-Lee had not responded to us for comment on that. So let’s explore.

Google is now rolling out its first step in the direction he pointed way back then. The Knowledge Graph exemplifies that. Yet in many ways, Google’s playing catch up.

To understand why, it’s key to understand how Knowledge Graph works.

Google’s 2010 purchase of Freebase and Metaweb — the systems it used to create Knowledge Graph — was a key step in its development.
Freebase, of course, is a semantic database. That means it knows the attributes of entities and the relationships between them. For example, Freebase knows that Larry Press is a person and that the value of his city of birth attribute is Pasadena, California —  as opposed to Pasadena, Texas.

So Google started with the Freebase concept and added data to create the Knowledge Graph database, which now contains 500 million entities with 3.5 billion attributes and connections.

Let’s look at an example. I started my exploration on Knowledge Graph with a vanity search on my name. You should, too. The following profile displayed on the right hand side of the screen.

Note that it did not know the value of any of my attributes. It just returned a link to my Google Plus profile and the first few sentences of my most recent posts. I guess I am not one of the 500 million entities Google says it has included in its new Knowledge Graph.

So next I searched for George Washington, who is just a bit better known than I am. Here’s what it delivered.

In this case, it knows his nicknames, date of birth and so on. Because he was not only a person but also a U.S. president, notice he also has a vice president attribute attached. Knowledge Graph also knows that he died at Mount Vernon, which is another entity that Google included in Knowledge Graph.

While the Knowledge Graph was developed using the Freebase tools I mentioned above, note that Google did not import the user-contributed Freebase data. I know this because I am in Freebase yet not, apparently, in the Knowledge Graph.

That says Google is abandoning the Wikipedia-like openess of Freebase, in which users could add entities and change the values of their attributes at will. Instead, Google is curating a database in house. That will limit its growth and that free quality we all associate with the Internet. A closed system.

Google’s Knowledge Graph is at any rate an interesting development, but Google is not the only player in the web of data game. And here is where things get even more interesting.

Apple has attracted a lot of attention with Siri, the speech-driven application that answers questions by querying Wolfram alpha, another semantic database system. Knowledge Graph gives Google an answer to Siri and Wolfram alpha. Actually, Wolfram alpha goes further, incorporating a powerful symbolic math engine.

So now we have a space race, of sorts. This will be great to watch.

Consider. Microsoft is also working on the semantic-rich Web of data. It characterizes Bing of late as a so-called “answer engine” as opposed to a  “search engine.”  Microsoft Research has a Semantic Computing Intitative. Undoubtedly we will see this in Bing.

The Web is getting smarter — we may move from today’s Web of documents to a Web of data and eventually a Web of knowledge you can query with words, speech and, soon, visual data. But will it be at the expense of the openness as personified by such systems as Freebase and Wikipedia. Stay tuned as we did further into the semantic search wars in general and Google Knowledge Graph, specifically.

For, I’m Larry Press.