—— On May 18, 2009, the new Wolfram Alpha Computational Knowledge Engine was unveiled. For all intents and purposes, this looks like a search engine. But it’s not. While Google and others before it simply respond to a search inquiry by gathering the most significant articles related to your inquiry – Wolfram Alpha does so much more. Ohhh, so much more!

Some of the myriad tasks this mind-blowing, plasma-generated, hyperspace-driven engine (okay, not really) range from simple fact-gathering and analysis like general, non-demographic related info about a city. Or something more personal, like finding out dietary content. You can even find out pertinent information about a publicly-owned corporation, organization, or even a URL link, without having to sift through oodles and oodles of data. The more typical stuff one can do with Wolfram Alpha would be mundane calculations, like decompose fractions or integrate a multivariable derivative. Wolfram Alpha can also find such esoteric bits of data for you, such as specific heat of gold, and genetic codes, among other things.

As mentioned earlier, Wolfram Alpha is not a search engine. It’s an answer engine, which means depending on how you phrase your question, it will present as much concise and factual data as it possibly can, based on its internal knowledge base. It’s still in its infancy, so there are some things it still cannot do. First of all, it’s not at that point yet, when it can answer questions like “What is the kinetic energy of a fastball in baseball?” or even “Find the equation of a line parallel to the x-axis containing points (0,2).” It also won’t be able to process random words or requests, like “apple,” without first clarifying with you if you want the fruit or Steven Jobs’ company.

And NO, it won’t answer questions like, “Am I sexy?” or “Will you go out on a date with me?” (Puh-leeze!)  Wolfram Alpha is for “serious” inquiries only. If you have any specific factual, mathematical, financial, statistical or scientific question you may have, then Wolfram Alpha will be your newest plaything or best friend, even. It may not be able to do everything just yet, but it will certainly try. Instead of just trolling for a whole bunch of websites and saying, “Here’s all this crap, now I’m outta here!” it will pop an answer for you (if it has it) and ask, “More?” It’s a knowledge-based machine, not just a mere information-fishing net. Therein lies the mind-blowing beauty of Wolfram, though: It is the closest thing to a quick-response machine, far beyond the definition of “online calculator” or computer, for an end-user. It’s a Google + Wikipedia on speed!

Wolfram Alpha is the latest step in the evolution of the internet and the personal computer. It’s the latest brainchild of mathematical demi-god Stephen Wolfram, he of Mathematica and A New Kind of Science (NKS) fame in scientific corners. I have yet to fully read NKS but from what I’ve learned thus far, Wolfram has created his own version of a self-replicating artificial creature starting with a fairly simple code, one of the main themes of his groundbreaking work. In simple English, think of a creature that’s been not so much created, as it has been activated through a series of commands, much the same way as computer programs depend of language and machine code, in order to exist. That is what a nigh-sentient Wolfram Alpha would be. Or Frankenstein, if you’re a Science Ethicist. Or Skynet, if you’ve seen one too many Terminator movies. Creepy, huh?

Theatrical future shock and moral ramifications aside, Wolfram Alpha is a brilliant and innovative tool that should give Dr. Farnsworth a rise. Or at least do light number-crunching, in case his supercomputers are down. For those seeking demographics, statistics and other general information, it’s a bitchen tool. But especially for teachers and students looking to answer the “unanswerable” in math or science, I can’t say enough about how priceless Wolfie is. I bemoan the fact that if Wolfram Alpha had been available ten years ago, I would have been saved the grief of toiling away, solving for eigenvalues and Hamiltonians in the wee hours of the morning. When I return for grad school, though, I think I’ll be able to sleep more in between classes. 🙂

To date, the Alpha Wolf has sold space for only one ad to Lenovo for its ThinkPad T Series, thus far. It’s only a matter of time before it starts getting cluttered… yikes! So in the meantime, come on over and pay Wolfram Alpha a visit! First, take a moment to see all of the superfunkilicious things that Wolfram Alpha can do… Happy Knowledge-Hunting.

Here are the links to Wolfram Alpha, and news feeds about it:

Wolfram Alpha’s Site

Wolfram Alpha Acts as Computational Knowledge Engine

Wolfram Alpha, Google, and the Future of Search Engines

Ads Appear on Wolfram Alpha

Copyright Anabasius 2009


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