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back to article Taking a first bite out of Wolfram Alpha

Is it the newest rival to Google, likely to knock Google off the top spot? No it isn’t. Does it provides a single answer to complex questions – unlike traditional search engines? Nope. Could it possibly be "a natural search engine"? Not quite. The newest game in town, if Twitter is anything to go by, is the Wolfram Alpha …

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Paris Hilton

Bahh, waste of time and money

Sure, it knows the answer to the meaning of life the universe and everything (42, obviously, duh), but it hasn't a bloody clue where my car keys are..

This computational AI stuff's got a long way to go yet.

Paris, not AI, not even sure she's real I..

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Tim

European Swallow?

It knows the airspeed of a European swallow 25mph, but not an African one....

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more competition

This can only mean good things for Search Engine users. Competition will increase and just like what is happening with other industries, smaller players will emerge with great solutions. Reminds me of a recent Search Engine (SEOENG) that also appealed to a narrow group of people, but nonetheless solved a problem not yet addressed by the major Search Engines.

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Boffin

Ehhhh

Somethings that i've tried (like ISS interesct LONG/LAT co-ordinates it would intersect with in a few hours) it just doesn't know what to do with but it manages to figure out what ISS means and the long/lat co-ordinates.

Kinda nifty to play with all the same

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Dark Horses are Black Bess Thoroughbreds too.

"allowing users to feed the system questions in an approximation of English." Thank GODs for that. A Virtual Interpreter Program.

Very SMART, Stephen, Information Creating ITs Own Future Space and SurReal Places/Earthed Realities.

" That study, at present, is focussed on issues of disambiguation and the creation of "ontologies" – the re-structuring of data sets to align them more closely with the information requirements likely to be placed upon them.

In those aims, Wolfram|Alpha looks like being a resounding success."

Seconded, John .... so that has Squared ITs Potential. One more Fan has IT Easily Cubed and Real Powerful in All Possible Control Matters.

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already has a flaw

"as Americans simply do not eat rabbits." Needs to be able to distinguish IPs from urban areas and those from rural... the latter certainly includes noshers of things lagomorphic.

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Stop

It's not a search engine

It's an expert system. Still an impressive feat, but calling it a search engine is just an attempt to jam it into the current fad about what computers should be spending their time on. It's not a way to interact with the internet at all.

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Interesting

It works better than I thought it would when I read the blurb a while back.

That said, there are clearly some 'gaps' in data that it should know about. For example, it knows all about Tropical Storm 'Fay' in 2002 but knows nothing of the larger storm of the same name in 2008.

I'm still quite impressed though.

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It also cannot...

...tell me how many stomachs a badger or cow has.

Nor is it able to give a full answer to "how many kilobytes per megabyte", because it ignores what's been the usual since the 60's and only gives the SI answer. It doesn't even mention that until recently, a meg was 1024kb - even though almost every single dictionary (a source that should be aggregated) defines a megabyte using the 1960's method, not the SI method.

So it's ok... as long as you check it's answers through Google. So... might as well just Google it?

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Anonymous Coward

It seems to be broken

I typed in "what is the cross product of two vectors", read the rest of the reg article, started writing this post and I'm still waiting for the answer.

Ooh. It's just finished. The answer is...

Sorry, Wolfram Alpha is temporarily unavailable. Please try again.

Ho hum.

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Alert

Yes and no.

It's kind of odd...yes its coming back with a lot of "doesn't know what you mean" pages...but then you put the exact same in again, and on the third of forth shot it suddenly gets what you mean and does something with it. Not sure if the "doesn't know what you mean" thing is actually a doesn't know, and is actually a "given to much time to looking, and giving up" answer...possibly due to everyone clobbering it for answers at the moment.

Is it a search engine like Google? no. Is it something I may throw a question at since Google comes up with nothing but crap filled directory pages? yes.

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Stop

Does its output make any more sense than

Does its output make any more sense than Amanfromarse's?

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Nice one Guardian.

Funnily enough I 'ad that Bertrand Russell in the back of my cab once. "So, Lord Russell," I asked 'im, "what's it all about then?". And do you know what, 'e couldn't tell me! Mind 'ow you go gov...

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Joke

This is the kind of research we need . . .

Americans don't eat rabbit . . .

Dragons Den pitch:

It's essentially an overseas product, rabbit stew in a can. We've also secured a contract to provide a low cost, creatively labelled, compartmentalised (TV dinner style) rabbit stew. Major airline's have shown good interest. Rabbit as a food source provides excellent return on investment compared to other meat's. . .

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Anonymous Coward

From the guardian link:

"There's also Stephen Wolfram discusses Wolfram|Alpha: Computational Knowledge Engine, which is the full 1 hour 65 minutes."

Or 2 hours 5 minutes to most people.

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It's not very good...

... I tried "what is the difference between a duck"*

and "what are next weeks lottery numbers"

and it just said it didn't know what to do with my query.

Poor show.

*One of it's legs is both the same

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Good luck Wolfram!

The key sentence in the article is "For if any one thing is certain, the non-specialist press just love to tear apart new technologies the moment they fail to live up to claims they never made in the first place."

As far as I am aware Wolfram have never said that this the current release is the final version of the search engine. It's a great pity that Alpha will be commented on in the popular press, by people with significantly lower intellect than those working at Wolfram.

I for one hope that Wolfram is successful. I seem to remember that Mathematica was treated with some suspicion when it was released because many people simply did not understand it.

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Paris Hilton

Knowledge gaps

Doesn't know what to do with "Northern Ireland", so they haven't even manged to load all the countries of the world into their knowledge engine.

Paris, because her geography probably isn't great either.

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Anonymous Coward

It's thick

I asked it a load of direct questions and the only one it managed to answere was 'how much potasium is in a banana?'

It had no idea how big tibet is or how tall Richard Hammond is.

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Solution looking for a problem

It's obviously intended to be an engine for extracting facts from the internet. However, I see it mostly as a filter for restricting your view of the internet to just those facts that happen to fit its model.

As such, it's basically like a very restricted form of Wikipedia. By using it, you're accepting someone else's pre-digested view of what's going on in the world. Obviously, even Google must have some bias about which links it shows in response to keywords, but at least you can sample a few links to judge the range of what's available (or even try another search engine). With Wolfram|Alpha, you're basically trusting big brother to tell you the truth.

Not really a problem you might think? Then what does it have to say about the reality of climate change, for example? Can it plot a graph of future global temperatures (or even historical temperatures) that everyone would be happy with? Is it able to decide when something ceases to be a fact and becomes opinion? I'd say even humans aren't very good at that - and that causes a whole load of trouble.

And what happens when it deduces the wrong answer to some very popular query? Does it become an urban myth machine? Will its gullible users just repeat the garbage it produces until everyone starts to believe it?

Honestly, I can't see myself using this for getting the answer to anything that matters. I'm always going to have to check the result with something else, like Google. So why even bother?

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crashes my browser after entering question

firefox on mac. anybody else?

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Ben
Go

Speed of Swallow

It may not know the speed of a general unladen swallow (try "what's the speed of an unladen swallow") but it does at least give a reason why. Get more specific and click on the link for a European swallow, and it will give you the answer - even noting Monty Python as the question source.

For most people, Wolfram Alpha is going to be of limited use. Sure it can tell you the weather with pretty graphs and a few other stats, but really it's best for a set of technical questions that combine interpretation, calculation and display of data. Hopefully though it will keep improving as I find it better than Google for certain queries.

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Pirate

An early front-runner

The hype got a good headstart from this ludicrous front page lead in the S/Indie back on 3rd May:

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/an-invention-that-could-change-the-internet-for-ever-1678109.html

On one level I feel sorry for Wolfram. On the other hand, there's the small matter of the hours of my life I won't get back which I wasted reading about "A New Kind of Science" and cellular automata. I therefore feel justified in getting in a pre-emptive Nelsonian "HA-HA!"

Pirates because I don't think I used that icon before. Splice the mainbrace! Yo ho ho! and so forth.

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Coat

Citizen Smith

I can see why they are annoyed at the hype (as generated by their own PR people ;-), but surely it could have a better name - how about "Wolfie" ?

'Power to the People!'

'Freedom for Tooting!'

(mine's the one with the copy of Socialist Worker in the pocket...)

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javascript...

tried it, apparently you need javascript active for it to work.

so I won't be going back.

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Swallows

It doesn't know the airspeed of a swallow, but it does explain that this answer only applies to European swallows, and not African ones.

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Beer gives you energy

In imperial

http://www93.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=How+many+calories+are+there+in+a+pint+of+beer%3F

but not the number of joules in a litre

What it's doing is far more impressive than the results indicate

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I tried it....

It's wank. Pardon my French.

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Americans *do* eat rabbits

I had rabbit in a New York restaurant once. It was yum.

The system is obviously being populated with incorrect axioms already.

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Paris Hilton

First post?

Not likely by the time this gets on the board.

However, the rest of you must have much brighter questions to ask on this subject. Else, give me a while before I show you up. I'm not so smart so please don't make me make you look dumb, OK?

Juan

Paris because she always looks good, regardless of circumstances...

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WolframAlpha

It would help Wolfram's case somewhat if they did not get the answer to the first question I asked it wrong (it gave me the wrong population of a city which seems like a pretty basic thing to get wrong--even Wikipedia gets it right). I asked other things and got some interesting information but the formatting needs work.

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Load of carp

It seems to like finding the density of things, so try "potato density" - you should get 0.63 g/cc.

Strange that, because mine always seem to sink when I put them in water. Maybe mathematical geniuses don't prepare their own vegetables. Try some other root vegetables and I think you'll get similar nonsense.

Helpfully, however, it will give its obviously wrong result in a wide choice of different units.

Not a good sign is it?

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Is this really what we need?

Beside the fact that it does not work very well (yet?), one wonders whether it is really a good idea to try get actual answers from the internet.

Google's searches return (mostly) relevant information but still require the reader to actually apply some reasoning and interpretation to get to the real answer. Considering all the rubbish out there this is probably a far better way to handle information from the internet.

WA might technically work, but if it runs in Mathematica (even compiled) then it will just never be able to scale like Google does.

I tried WA from New Zealand South Island with two questions:

Question: "How many sheep in New Zealand?"

WA answer: Can't understand input.

Google: NZ population statistics page giving a reasonable number.

Question: "Where is Wellington?"

WA answer: Map with a star at the bottom of North Island. Reasonable answer.

Google answer: Google map of Wellington + wikipedia link + other associated info.

Correct answer: Who cares.

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Anonymous Coward

Limited datasets

I was interested in comparing the performance of some laptops, so I entered the CPU labels, but WolframAlpha didn't recognize them. It seems like the sort of data that might be useful in this kind of "engine".

I also asked it about "population density in EU countries", but it apparently couldn't parse the phrase "EU countries", giving be an average population density for the whole EU (so it recognized that term) , and for the whole world (all countries).

Just asking for "population density in EU" worked, and it's interesting to compare it to "population density in Western Europe", so it's clearly a powerful tool, but it's not going to pass any Turing tests!

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Go

Oh How Cute

Wolfram is the "old" chemical for what we now know as Tungsten. Is the supposed to compete with Chrome?

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Interesting

It's an interesting concept. It does struggle at the moment with a lot of inputs but that should get better over time as it begins to take over the world and all it's information like Another Large Search Engine Beginning with G(TM).

I can certainly see the possibility of using this product inside corporations, insurance companies and the like. Type in a post code and see a list of claims made with age data and number of acts of god since 1984 etc.

Perhaps this could be fed with ContactPoint data? An enterprising individual in the gov could make a fortune selling to the Paedophiles/Daily Mail information on streets with the highest densities of vulnerable female/male children under the age of 6 who like sweets...

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A long way to go

I played with the site today, and, apart from entering queries as prompted by their examples, everything I tried just got a 'Huh' reply.

Maybe I was just being dumb, but certainly the hype about being able to interpret 'natural English queries' is definitely unfounded.

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Joke

Just a thought

>"Rabbit", in the UK, should return data on the animal both as biological entity and source of food: in the US, according to Wolfram|Alpha, the second level of meaning will be overlooked, as Americans simply do not eat rabbits.

So what did Elmer spend so much effort for ?

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Okay then

I seemed to get a lot of "Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input."

However, in response to "How much wood could a woodchuck chuck?" It did give "A woodchuck could chuck all the wood he could chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood."

I'll keep an eye on it.

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Unhappy

Queries I have known

I tried asking it "How many people are doing it right now?" in the hope that I could then refine the result to a radius around me, but alas it didn't understand.

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This post has been deleted by a moderator

This post has been deleted by a moderator

Alert

I googled: "Wolfram Alpha"

All I got was:

"I can't let you do that Dave"

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Why do journalists not read the FAQs?

Why do journalists not read the FAQs?

Wolfram's FAQs specifically point out that that it is not a search engine and does not index web pages.

It is like saying Open Office will drive Firefox out of business -- Wolfram Alpha and Google Search do almost entirely different things.

Google Search is a search engine.

Wolfram Alpha is a database.

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Search ... for the Constant Pursuit or Real Placement of Excellence?

"It's obviously intended to be an engine for extracting facts from the internet. " .... By Werner McGoole Posted Monday 18th May 2009 19:42 GMT

Err ..... I think it is much SMARTer than that and is also for placing/injecting new facts and phormations onto/into the Internet ..... in Order to Create SurReal ControlLed Environments in the Midst of a Chaotic Destructively Competitive Intellectual Space .... although I would agree with anyone who would say that there is precious little Intelligence being used if there is a Destructively Competitive Chaos Space/Earthly Place.

But I suppose you would have to ask Wolfram|Alpha that question to remove any possible doubt.

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Coat

Beer unit size?

@Beer gives you energy

At least it knows something about the unit of choice for beer:

serving size 1 pt (480 g)

The downside is the actual calorie count in beer varies greatly depending on the brew in question...

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Happy

Third meaning!

"....Americans simply do not eat rabbits"

They do drive them though and that is a genuine, geographically specific thing as VW call 'em Golfs everywhere else.

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Joke

Vital internet question

What's it like at searching for porn?

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Glass houses

"the non-specialist press just love to tear apart new technologies the moment they fail to live up to claims they never made in the first place."

This made me laugh as I read it just after Ted Dziuba piece in this very organ of the "specialist press".

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Rabbit?

Clearly the two most important questions to arise already are the airspeed of a swallow - for which the engine appears to provide a European but not African answer - and whether Americans eat rabbit.

On the second, the "fact" fed me about American dietary habits emanated from their pr department, as opposed to Wolfram|Alpha itself. So perhaps americans DO eat rabbits. Anyone with the definitive answer to that would be welcome.

Although I have a sinking feeling that this article may just have spawned an urban myth.

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