Wolfram Alpha

May 6th, 2009 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

This sounds great – from the Herald:

The biggest internet revolution for a generation will be unveiled this month with the launch of software that will understand questions and give specific, tailored answers in a way that the web has never managed before.

The new system, Wolfram Alpha, showcased at Harvard University in the US last week, takes the first step towards what many consider to be the internet’s Holy Grail – a global store of information that understands and responds to ordinary language in the same way a person does. …

Sounds good.

will not only give a straight answer to questions such as “how high is Mount Everest?”, but it will also produce a neat page of related information – all properly sourced – such as geographical location and nearby towns, and other mountains, complete with graphs and charts.

The real innovation, however, is in its ability to work things out “on the fly”, according to its British inventor, Dr Stephen Wolfram. If you ask it to compare the height of Mount Everest to the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, it will tell you. Or ask what the weather was like in London on the day John F Kennedy was assassinated, it will cross-check and provide the answer. Ask it about D sharp major, it will play the scale. Type in “10 flips for four heads” and it will guess that you need to know the probability of coin-tossing. If you want to know when the next solar eclipse over Chicago is, or the exact current location of the International Space Station, it can work it out.

Sounds even better. Can’t wait.

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10 Responses to “Wolfram Alpha”

  1. Kimble (4,417 comments) says:

    Sounds like the sort of technology that was 5 years away back in the 90′s.

    Next up, full immersion virtual reality. I want my holodeck goddammit!

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  2. virtualmark (1,522 comments) says:

    Stephen Wolfram is the guy behind Mathematica, so he’s got good cred with pulling together good IT stuff that can handle really complex problems. So he might be on to something here …

    I doubt it’s going to displace Google as our main Internet nexus though … most of us just want something like a library index, which is what Google is so good at.

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  3. WraithX (295 comments) says:

    If it works as well as his music generator (found here: http://tones.wolfram.com/generate/ ) I wouldn’t get too excited about it!

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  4. Ross Nixon (612 comments) says:

    For any harder questions, just ask DPF. He is a ‘know-it-all’.

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  5. KiwiGreg (3,224 comments) says:

    Nerds

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  6. adamsmith1922 (890 comments) says:

    I posted a video presentation on this couple of days ago which gives some idea of what this is about

    http://adamsmith.wordpress.com/2009/05/02/wolframalpha-google-killer/

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  7. burt (8,036 comments) says:

    Nothing new here, but good luck to them.

    Ask Jeeves

    http://internet.suite101.com/article.cfm/ask_jeeves_a_question

    “Thus, in 2001 the company shortened its name and did away with its butler mascot to simply become “Ask.com.” When you just ask Jeeves a question these days you really aren’t asking “Jeeves” anything. What you ARE doing is using a powerful search engine that built its name and reputation on delivering answers to questions asked in natural, everyday language.”

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  8. beautox (437 comments) says:

    If you type “How high is Mount Everest?” into Google, you get the answer:

    Mount Everest — Elevation: 8,848 metres (29,029 FT) Ranked 1st

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  9. Colonel Masters (420 comments) says:

    If you type “convert 250 celsius to fahrenheit” into Google, you get the answer:
    “250 degrees Celsius = 482 degrees Fahrenheit”

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  10. side show bob (3,660 comments) says:

    Not so sure about this. I may be old fashioned but I see serious dangers in this. Many in this world are dumbed down enough, if asking a machine the answers to every problem be it technical mathematical scientific and one gets the immediate correct answer then where is the challenge to learn. Facts and technical knowledge will mean nothing and the bloody kids will love doing their homework now, just ask the computer. While they can do that now they still have to have the ability to frame the question just to search for an answer. I think this will further dumb down the population.

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