When people in the United States ask Microsoft’s search engine Bing how big Syria is, they learn the country is 71,498 square miles and about equal to the size of Florida. When they ask Bing how many calories are in a serving of ice cream, they learn that a scoop contains 137 calories, which is equal to about 11 minutes of running.
These two-part answers supplied by Bing are early, real-world examples of a technology being developed inside Microsoft’s research labs to help us make sense of the jumble of numbers we increasingly encounter in the digital world.
“We want to reduce the number of times that people read a number and can’t make sense of it. And we want to do that by providing some context, or an analogy, or perspective, that puts it in more familiar terms usually related to their everyday experience,” said Jake Hofman, a senior researcher in Microsoft’s New York research lab.