Searching on the Internet could get easier, if a 17-year-old math prodigy has his way.
While searching on Yahoo, Daniel Wang found it difficult to get the results he wanted.
So he asked his 14-year-old son Louis, who was learning calculus in the University of Minnesota's Talented Youth Mathematics Program, to help him find a solution to his problem.
Within a few hours, Louis had cured his father's frustrations.
He came up with an algorithm that reduces the calculations a search engine has to perform in order to improve the relevance of a database search when using two or more search terms. The algorithm makes the searching process more efficient while garnering more accurate results.
Daniel Wang helped his son write down the idea, but he said his son came up with it all on his own.
And others are taking note.
Louis, now a 17-year-old senior at the International School of Minnesota in Eden Prairie, is presenting his ideas in Nashville this week at the IEEE Symposium on Computational Intelligence and Data Mining.
The conference will serve as a platform for Louis to argue the merits of his idea to 150 computer experts. While publishing his idea with the IEEE would be beneficial, Louis knows he needs helpful feedback on his idea in order to market it effectively. "I want to see how far I can take it as far as commercialization."
His physics teacher, Rod Fisher, said he's never heard of another student this young presenting an idea without help from a professor or instructor.
Daniel Wang, himself a Web developer, has been prepping his son for the conference. He tells him: "Don't be nervous. No one expects you to be professional there. You're only a kid."
Still, Louis admits he's a little nervous.
Louis applied for a patent on his algorithm on Dec. 31, 2006. The Wangs have been waiting for a long time for word on whether it will be granted, but Daniel Wang said they should hear from the patent office within the next few months.
After applying for the patent, Louis sent the idea to Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. Microsoft replied, saying its lawyer was looking at the proposal. Once the patent is approved, Louis plans to resubmit the proposal to the companies.
After two years of teaching Louis, Fisher said, he sees in him the traits that often make a successful innovator.
When he worked at Cargill for 18 years, Fisher said, he recruited people who "don't fit the normal style," because they are more likely to break out of the mold of conventional ideas.
To Fisher, Louis Wang is "edgy" -- intense and focused on what he's working on -- and "really bright people who are edgy ... contribute a lot."
He described conversations with Louis as sometimes uncomfortable because he "talks two levels too high" for most people's comprehension. However, Fisher said he never comes across as self-impressed, even though he's "so darn bright."
Spreading his ideas
The conference represents a great opportunity for Louis to talk about his ideas with people who will understand them, Fisher said.
Though a pending patent at age 17 sets him apart, Louis is a normal kid, his teacher said.
He likes go-karting, skiing and playing video games. His favorite game is "Halo." And he enjoys books by his favorite author, Richard Dawkins.
He admits he hates spiders and learning French. "It's more memorization" than he likes.
At school, he sings in the choir and is in an extracurricular club where he and teammates build robots.
While he likes number theory, Louis said he's "not a fan of pure mathematics." As for what he hopes to study in college, "economics would be fun." He's due to graduate on June 7 and hopes to study at the University of Chicago or Yale.
Joy Petersen is a University of Minnesota journalism student on assignment for the Star Tribune.