Wolfram Alpha: Helpful or Hyped?

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Wolfram Alpha
Wolfram Alpha is a name that’s causing a huge frenzy of speculation on the web. Cited as being the most important website ever and a Google-killer, wolframalpha.com was launched with a huge marketing blitz on Friday. As is usual with these high-profile events, the site failed almost immediately. It is live again, but this weekend has been re-branded as a “test” launch with the full service expected on Monday 18 May.

Wolfram What?

Despite the odd name, Wolfram Alpha is an interesting project. The system is promoted as a “knowledge engine”. Superficially, it looks like any other search engine, but its aim is to present intelligent data rather than links to other websites. The project’s creator, Stephen Wolfram, was frustrated that computers had not reached the technical summit people expected 50 years ago. You can not ask a computer a natural language question and have it compute the answer. Wolfram Alpha is possibly a first tentative step towards that goal. The system is primarily aimed at a technical audience so it could become a useful resource for students, researchers, analyts and scientists.

Does it Work?

Although the service remains a little glitchy, I did manage a few test queries. The parser prefers simple language and works best with hard facts. I tried “When will halley’s comet next appear” – that confused it, but “halley’s comet”
returned better results. Bizarrely, “halleys comet” (without the apostrophe) provided much more information (click to enlarge)Halleys Comet Getting the right phrase is a little hit or miss. The results sometimes give links to other resources on the web, but Wolfram Alpha rarely shows what else it knows or provides a way to drill down into the data. Meaning of life

Should Google be Worried?

Absolutely not. Wolfram Alpha will never have the global appeal of Google’s search results. It may give intelligent and accurate data, but it does not provide opinion, reviews, or the variety of information sources. The site will be useful to find facts quickly and obtain attractive graphs or diagrams. Students will certainly benefit and I can see it being used in association with Wikipedia. Have you tried wolframalpha.com
? Did it understand you? Will you use it?

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Wolfram Alpha

What is Wolfram Alpha and how does it work?

Wolfram Alpha is a unique online computational knowledge engine that generates output by doing computations from its own internal knowledge base, instead of searching the web and returning links. It uses a vast amount of algorithms and data to answer factual queries directly, making it different from conventional search engines. It can handle a wide range of topics, including mathematics, statistics, physics, and many more.

How can I use Wolfram Alpha?

To use Wolfram Alpha, simply type your question or calculation into the search bar on the homepage and hit enter. The engine will then compute the answer based on its internal knowledge base and algorithms, and present the results in a structured format.

Is Wolfram Alpha free to use?

Yes, Wolfram Alpha is free to use for basic queries. However, there is a Pro version available that offers additional features such as step-by-step solutions, more computation time, and enhanced visualization options. The Pro version requires a subscription fee.

What is the Wolfram Alpha app?

The Wolfram Alpha app is a mobile version of the computational knowledge engine. It offers the same capabilities as the web version, allowing users to compute answers to factual queries directly from their mobile devices. The app is available for download on both iOS and Android platforms.

What is the significance of the Wolfram Alpha logo?

The Wolfram Alpha logo is a representation of a rhombic hexecontahedron, a polyhedron with 60 diamond-shaped faces. This shape was chosen because it embodies the concept of computational knowledge, with its many facets representing the multitude of areas that Wolfram Alpha covers.

Who is the creator of Wolfram Alpha?

Wolfram Alpha was created by British computer scientist Stephen Wolfram. He is also the founder and CEO of Wolfram Research, a company known for creating Mathematica, a modern technical computing system.

How accurate is Wolfram Alpha?

Wolfram Alpha is highly accurate as it uses a vast amount of algorithms and data to compute answers. However, like any computational tool, the accuracy of the results depends on the accuracy of the input data.

Can Wolfram Alpha solve complex mathematical problems?

Yes, Wolfram Alpha is capable of solving a wide range of mathematical problems, from basic arithmetic to complex calculus. It can also provide step-by-step solutions with a Pro subscription.

How does Wolfram Alpha compare to traditional search engines?

Unlike traditional search engines that return a list of web pages based on keywords, Wolfram Alpha computes answers to queries using its internal knowledge base and algorithms. This makes it more of a computational knowledge engine than a search engine.

Can Wolfram Alpha be integrated with other platforms?

Yes, Wolfram Alpha can be integrated with other platforms through its API. This allows developers to use the computational capabilities of Wolfram Alpha in their own applications or websites.

Craig BucklerCraig Buckler
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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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