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Wolfram Alpha


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So Stephen Wolfram, creator of Mathematica, is about to release a search engine for formal knowledge based on Mathematica:

 

http://www.twine.com/item/122mz8lz9-4c/wolfram-alpha-is-coming-and-it-could-be-as-important-as-google

 

The idea is they'll hand curate a formal knowledge database about science, technology, geography, weather, cooking, business, travel, people, music, etc. and from this Mathematica will be able to apply rich calculations to answer natural language questions.

 

It will be interesting to see how well this works.

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Any guesses about how the thing works?

 

I would guess it contains a logic language similar to Prolog for performing queries across formally specified relations between different knowledge systems.


Merged post follows:

Consecutive posts merged

Some people have pointed out MIT's START as an existing alternative:

 

http://start.csail.mit.edu/

 

...however I'm terribly underimpressed. START is unable to answer fairly basic biology questions like "Are humans mammals?"

 

I sure hope Wolfram Alpha will be able to answer those kinds of questions...

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It's happening! Check it out:

 

http://www.wolframalpha.com

 

My feelings would best be described at surprised, meant in both the positive and negative way. While there are a lot of things that are infinitely cool, such as when you type in a mathematical problem, say [math] \frac{d}{dx} sin(x) + cos(x)[/math] you can ask it to show you the steps it took to arrive at the result, not just the result, although I'm not sure it works for every single computation.

Another is the extent of data available in certain areas. For example, I was astounded to find out that it had weather records dating back nearly 70 years for the town I live in (Pisek; population of 30k, in the middle of nowhere, South Czech Republic). And it certainly doesn't end there.

 

However, I was also disappointed by the lack of information in certain areas. For example, if you type in complex plane, or ferrofluid, it hasn't got a clue what you're talking about. Another one, if you type in "life expectancy male age 17 in Czech Republic", it gives you result, but add "smoker", and it's speachless.

If you type in "smoker male age 17" it gives you lots of graphs, LDL cholesterol ammount, systolic BP and whatnot. But replace "smoker" with "heroin addict", or "drug user", or just "drug", and it just doesn't know. Same with "heroin addicts in USA" or "drug users in USA".

Another one, if you type in "distance from Pisek to Sacramento", it gives you a result. But if you type in "distance from Pisek to Sacramento / 5 mph" it gives you a fraction with empty spaces (no result). If you type in "distance from Pisek to Sacramento at 5 mph" it won't give you a result. But if you type "pisek to sacramento at 5 mph", it will give you a result.

Another example, if you type in "number of males", it gives you a result, with plots and everything, but if you type in "number of females", it will interpret "female" as a physical quantity and give you nothing. To get the result, you need to type in "female population in all countries", or a suitable variation of that. And for that last one, I'm just waiting for some hardcore feminists to make an issue out of it (no offense intended).

You'll also experience a lot of server overload errors if you try it out now, but that's to be expected, and I'm actually pretty impressed at how well it's holding up under the strain. They say they'll have the whole cluster up and running at the end of the weekend, and we should experience any problems after that.

 

Anyway, as S. Wolfram said, this is just the beginning, and I'm confident that its repository of knowledge is going to grow fast. And even if it won't, I'll still consider May 15th 2009 a pivotal day in human history. So much data, and all of it is just a couple of keystrokes away.

 

As a PS, a Wolfram Alpha Toolbar is available for FF and IE, along with other gadgets. Check the download section on the site, and ENJOY!!

Edited by Shadow
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It never said it would predict the answers, it said it would compute them from the data at hand. Although it would be nice to be able to ask it "What is the probability of bin Laden being in Paris at 1650 tomorow?" In other words, it'd be nice to have Spock on a web page...

 

Wolfram|Alpha, as it exists today, is just the beginning. We have both short- and long-term plans to dramatically expand all aspects of Wolfram|Alpha, broadening and deepening our data, our computation, our linguistics, our presentation, and more.

 

Wolfram|Alpha is built on solid foundations. And as we go forward, we see more and more that can be made computable using the basic paradigms of Wolfram|Alpha—and a faster and faster path for development as we leverage the broad capabilities already in place.

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...however I'm terribly underimpressed. START is unable to answer fairly basic biology questions like "Are humans mammals?"

 

I sure hope Wolfram Alpha will be able to answer those kinds of questions...

 

WA didn't manage that one either.

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...however I'm terribly underimpressed. START is unable to answer fairly basic biology questions like "Are humans mammals?"

 

I sure hope Wolfram Alpha will be able to answer those kinds of questions...

 

Nope, if you ask WA whether humans are mammals, it doesn't know how to answer. However, WA knows the scientific classification of humans, including that they belong to Mammalia.

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