Ming LiInformation can be terribly complex, but Waterloo professor Ming Li is harnessing it to do something profoundly simple: Make the world better.

The Canada Research Chair in Bioinformatics has created a question-and-answer program that beats anything else on the market — including Apple's much-lauded Siri personal assistant — and could open up the Internet to millions of people around the world.
This new system won’t just make finding information easier. Dr. Li hopes the money earned from commercializing the technology will be funneled into bioinformatics and the bid to cure cancer.
“Bioinformatics, if you want to do it seriously, you need a large amount of effort,” said Dr. Li, whose work spans theoretical computer science, information distance and bioinformatics to Kolmogorov complexity.
"Biological and medical sciences increasingly depend on bioinformatics. Understanding the genetic sequences, protein structures, biological pathways, and drug binding sites even for just one cancer requires a massive amount of scientific and engineering work by a large team.”
And that requires funding, which is where the Q&A technology comes in.

Ask me a question

Using a simple interface, the Q&A system developed at Waterloo can answer millions of questions in English and Chinese, and can even translate between the two languages.
While it’s great on smart phones, people in developing nations who have a cell phone but no internet stand to gain the most from it. 
“They can send a short message to our system, then we will answer it by sending a short message back,” Dr. Li said. 
“This helps them to cross the language barrier as well. Millions of people in China cannot read English well. We will help them to reach English websites by translated QA results.”
The system answers many more questions than Apple’s SIRI, he said, but there’s still a long way to go.
“The biggest challenge is understanding natural language. Language is complex [and] complexity blows up when you have to understand the context as well,” he said.
“The system here will effect everybody’s life, make everybody’s life easier.”