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back to article Wolfram Alpha - a new kind of Fail

Wolfram Alpha, the not-quite-search-engine from self appointed mathematical genius Stephen Wolfram, launched last Friday, and oh my, has it been a great weekend for software reviewers. I took some time to play around with Wolfram Alpha, and aside from being the best damn Wikipedia search engine since Powerset, the only …

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Tell you what..

You stop using the contraction 'fail' and I'll consider fully reading your article.

The word is 'failure'.

Instead of deriding a attempt to make a semantic search engine, try reading up on English grammar.

As to WA itself - give it a chance. It's a first attempt, and is likely to get better. It's going to have a different audience to something like Google. Let's hope that audience is big enough to keep it going, because the world is desperately waiting for a better search engine, and they don't spring to life completely formed.

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Wolfram Alpha - a new kind of Sail Internet Driver.

I take it then, Ted, you are not yet a great fan of the program?

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Wrong model

You're using the wrong model to interact with Alpha. It's not Google, it's more like Gopher. Wolfram has managed to smash through the 1991 technology barrier!

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Paris Hilton

Plagiarism? What plagiarism?

WA doesn't tell you when it's quoting from Wikipedia (or where ever else it copied its results from). But don't you *dare* use WA results without full citation!

See

http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20090518204959409

Paris? Because she doesn't mind telling you where she got it.

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Pirate

Polar Coordinate System

Meh, maybe I'm being to hard on this new product, but it has nothing on "polar coordinate system" other than a related input to "Polar, Wisconsin". C'mon, polar coordinates are pretty handy in math, aren't they? How else are we supposed to remember how to calculate sine and cosine?

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Anonymous Coward

google squared

is google pulling wolfram's leg with this calculator?

http://www.google.com/squared

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Anonymous Coward

@James Hughes

"Instead of deriding a attempt to make a semantic search engine, try reading up on English grammar."

Oh my...

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Ahhh...

This column always makes me feel better about myself. I did enjoy the illustrations. Windows Paint gives them a certain charm.

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Maybe

Maybe Wolfram should have started the site as a perpetual beta.

You know, sorta like what google does.

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@amfM

"a new kind of Sail Internet Driver."

Uh ... I was at SAIL when the Internet was being born. None of the people mentioned or writing with regard to this article (including me and that lard-ass Wolfram) could hold a candle to anything useful that came out of SAIL. Was an interesting group of brilliant, eclectic folks. I'm lucky that I had the opportunity to know and work with them.

The question remains, though ... does amanfromMars derive from SAIL? ;-)

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Flame

Is this article just trollbait?

I'd hardly call crediting yourself with your own work "arrogant".

This is so biased as to read as a personal attack on the poor guy. What have *you* done lately that was of any use to anybody else? Just because WA hasn't heard of a minor internet hack it must be terrible?

I have to agree with the first comment from James Hughes. The "fail" is all yours.

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I wish that fella *was* Ted

... at least then I'd know he's not going to be posting drivel to El Reg for too much longer.

John Ozimek wrote a far better article yesterday explaining exactly why Wolfram Alpha is different, and how it needs a different approach to searching. Maybe you should speak to him Ted, to learn a bit about what you writing about before you start spouting off?

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/05/18/wolfram_alpha/

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wondering too

" ...why some fucking snippet of CSS won't fucking render in fucking Internet Explorer fucking 6."

as in theregister.co.uk comment header lines overlaying other text that should appear below it ?

"Ted" should display Ted Nugent .. 'nuff said ...

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Paris Hilton

@ James Hughes & Wolfie

JH wrote, "Instead of deriding a attempt to make a semantic search engine, try reading up on English grammar."

Perhaps the article writer can borrow your English books, but only after you've completed your English studies! It is "an attempt" not "a attempt". Pot and kettle come to mind!

Gave Wolfie a go with a few different searches and it was completely useless. In last week's news there was "howls" of hype about Wolfie, but this week we can see it is more bark than bite! However, to be fair, I'll revisit it from time to time to reevaluate its effectiveness.

Paris.... she wouldn't be such a tease and fail to deliver. Take note Wolfie.

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Nothing semantic about it.

I don't get why people try to tag this as something related to the semantic web. There's nothing semantic about it: no context association, no ontology, no reasoning, no real attempt to integrate data outside of very ridged domains of "curated data".

So, if it's not a search engine (clearly), and it's not a semantic web attempt, then it's Mathematica with some big pre-defined datasets. Great for academics - not too useful for the general public. (And is it really useful to academics? Don't they already have access to mathematica / Matlab and large datasets specific to their fields?)

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@James & 'Fail'

Tell you what, James, why not go and have a look around the world - in particular at the popular culture in today's media and language - and you'll see that 'Fail' is now a common verb usage to indicate failure. [citation needed - oh, yes, it's all at www.failblog.org]

The article seemed pretty spot-on to me.

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Google Outer Limits

" is google pulling wolfram's leg with this calculator?

http://www.google.com/squared" ..... By Anonymous Coward Posted Tuesday 19th May 2009 05:11 GMT

AC,

42 Squared give a Novel Answer from Google

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Re: google squared

Try putting 0.1 into that.

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Not that good on maths either

I tried convert 52mpg to litres per 100km.

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@ google squared

try putting 42 into google's square thingy...

http://www.google.com/squared

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Anonymous Coward

A major milestone for the internet

It doesn't matter that it doesn't understand a lot of stuff, or that it may not have a viable business model, or that it may not be reliable or scale, or that it may be used far less frequently than Google. This is a major step forward, and someone has taken it.

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Anonymous Coward

x^0.5

x^0.5

Was it really that hard?

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Happy

erm

"For someone like me (and in the web market, there are a lot of people like me), Alpha is breaking ground in a New Kind of Uselessness."

do you also write reviews of washing machines referring to their inability to toast bread as a weakness?

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Unhappy

Wolfram|Alpha just wants to understand

http://beesbuzz.biz/blog/e/2009/05/16-wolframalpha_just_wants_to_understand.php

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It's a big wide web out there.

Surely there's enough space for Google, Wolfram Alpha, Wikipedia and yes, even 4chan to co-exist ! Amirite ?

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Internet Community 1 - Stephen Wolfram 0

Conversation in Wolfram HQ

"Welcome to Wolfram HQ, We have a treat in store for you today, you can try our new search engine. It's called Wolfram Alpha."

"OK, i want to know if Americans eat rabbit. My Wife is American and she eats rabbit"

"No problem my young man, COMPUTER! Do Americans eat rabbit?"

"Bzz Bzz Whhrrrrr.......Click......Americans simply do not eat rabbits"

"There you go young man, your wife doesn't at all eat rabbit."

"But I have cooked it myself, and she has eaten it"

"Has She? Has She Really? I think you need to check your facts young man"

"F*£& off you speccy tw*t."

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Go

Evaluation was probably all wrong

I maybe got this all wrong, or all right. But I think the evaulation was probably all wrong. You have to take the way we link information together in order to create what we call intelligence.

Your intelligence is mostly built upon experience of actual events, connections between related or unrelated data in order to create an approximation of the answer. Absolutely, in the case of mathematics and relatively, in the case of catching a ball.

The problem with search engines and this will always be the case, is they are trying a top down approach. To just create an algorithm which approximates a complex action and display the results, so we build the computer to recognise the words we understand and give them meaning without the computer knowing why, then just tell it to return certain results when we accept certain input.

This is a critical problem, because the computer will never truely understand what it is trying to acheive. So I believe what you might be seeing here, is not an attempt to create a google killer, but an attempt to model how to link information together at the most basic level, it's very primative, remember, because the top down approach gives you results like a fully grown adult *MIGHT* W|Alpha seems to be giving you answers you'd expect from a very basic intelligence.

This might be the first steps at trying a bottom up approach, where you are not so interested AT THIS STAGE, in giving correct results, but building the model upon which to rebuild the system a stage higher on the intelligence scale.

If this is true, then it's premature to judge the engine based on it's current level of intelligence (I use the term lightly) but might be better to see it as a primative experiment in driving the next level, if and once they start to get results from data associated together and they can obviously view the results and see whether the behaviour is correct or not, then we can start to see where they might go.

However, the idea might be not to produce something that gives the correct results, remember, humans might actually know the correct result by performing an inverse search for the correct result, using the incorrect data. We know how NOT to catch a ball, surely there are 1 million ways to NOT catch it, therefore it limits down how to ACTUALLY catch it. we know that throwing our leg into the air, will not result in a catched ball. So perhaps teaching the computer to recognise a WRONG answer, is more useful than teaching one to catch a CORRECT answer.

Just a few thoughts. Maybe we are looking at it in the wrong way, perhaps the idea is not to build a google clone, but to experiment and get free testing from the public about their ideas and how to create the next level.

could be??

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Alert

Knowledge Engine

Not really a search engine.. (or an encyclopedia either)

Dont use it to define stuff use it to get results/data.

Yes it lacks sources... to work well it needs a million times more, but the engine is quiet clever, I think when its Data Sources are improved all of your issues will evaporate.

Just try asking it for decline of sparrows vs. decline of haddock! Fail. because of no Data not because it doesn't work.

The problem I forsee is that a thousand times more datasources probably equals a Lot more standardisation work..

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You can still have fun with it

Enter:

life, the universe, and everything

and it indeed comes up with the answer "42"

Stock symbols come back with all sorts of impressive-looking numbers and graphs, which I'm sure are very meaningful to people who, well, know what they mean.

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Plagiarism?

Okay, so you wanted to write a sneering article - fine, that's obviously your genre. However, I'm not quite sure how/why you make the leap from a few biographical pieces of information about a writer being the same on both WA and Wikipedia to there having been uncredited copying.

Did you expect WA to show the guy dying on a different day, after having worked as a goat farmer in Latvia for the last six years of his life?

Beggars belief!

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Doesn't work for me

I wasn't able to find anything that it did understand other than simple dates or names, but it still scores over Cuil by not serving me actual Nazi propaganda if I search for Pingu.

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Stop

enough of the 4chan memes

This is the reg isn't it?

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Unhappy

Crash and Burn

Every time I try Wolfram Alpha with Firefox it crashes (Firefox, that is). Enter query, hit the "=" button, hourglass.............................................................

All you can do then is hit the close [X].

Several others reporting the same problem.

FF 3.0.10 with Adblock Plus and NoScript.

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Language.

Now, before the usual crowd wade in criticising Ted's use of profanity, I'd just like to say that in this usage: ".....why some fucking snippet of CSS won't fucking render in fucking Internet Explorer fucking 6.", it's entirely justified.

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Impressed

I entered "meaning of life" and WA got the right answer faster than Deep Thought so I was impressed ;-)

@amanfromMars - I got the impression it was Wolfram himself the author didn't like and this coloured his article.

@James Hughes - Use of the word fail instead of failure always leads me to anticipate a snide diatribe. Obviously not the case here. Obviously.

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Not that good with stocks either

Or maybe it is.........

tried to find out what it knew about Phorm (ptah!) but it insisted that I was trying to find out about Pharm, even when I put in the stock code for Phorm (ptui!) PHRM.L

So definityly Fail(ure)

Or even Phail(ure)

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At least it's got a sense of humour...

Ask it:

What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

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Not for the consumer

It can tell me how far it is London to Sydney, but when you try "Cheapest fare London to Sydney" the result is "Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input".

I can see that mathematicians and some engineers may have a use for this, but the great steaming unwashed (such as myself) - No.

Per James Hughes's comment, I can't see that the audience is big enough to make money.

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Anonymous Coward

Re:google squared

Thanks AC. First thing I entered was 42...

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Unhappy

@James Hughes

You appear to have failed at Interwebtubes memes.

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Joke

what did you expect?

after all, this isn't even the beta release of "wolfram" ... and in any case you really need to wait for the release candidate before you know it its any good

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Thanks

After all the weekend hype about how Wolfram Alpha is the best thing since sliced-bread and will revolutionise the search arena I'm glad it's not just me who found it to be a crock of shit.

I disagree with "a new kind of Fail"; no, it's fail I've seen many times before. Over-hyped and failing to deliver on expectations.

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Anonymous Coward

Harsh?

So the tech is a bit buggy, the dataset is limited and some of the logic is flawed but it's still early days.. I would imagine that with all the queries that have been sent to it in the last 24 hours the engineers have got a mountain of test data with which to build a big better system.

It may fail but it just might work and eventually produce a tool worthy of a " I take that back" article.

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Dan

google squared is rubbish too

It can't even square i.

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Like asking a Chess genius to service a car

A programmer is not a Scientist, no idea why you thought a mathematical based website would be able to help you with programming, swing and a miss!

Just looked at your other reg articles Ted, an awful lot of Fail and you titles, very critical of other peoples work aren't we, but I couldn't find any of yours. A google of you reveals "Ted Dziuba is a well-known blogger, mainly famous for his incredibly harsh blog" hmmm, be giving your "articles" a miss in future.

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Fail, you are.

I tried playing around with this yesterday, but felt so close to breaking something I had to leave the room.

Put in "Preston", and yes, lots of info. Put in "Preston, MP" and you get nothing. Try my date of birth, and there comes half a page of info I could get from Wikipedia. Try the last UK general election, and again, the political confused the mathematical mind.

Like a calculator, the programme only seems to work when users input what it expects to be input. But web searches are not so ordered and predictable.

I suggest Wolfram Alpha goes back to, well, beta....

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Flame

Can someone explain why....

you guys from the US including the author get grumpy when something may be a challenge to the great god that is google (G^3 for short).

Come on, the US has things to be proud of other than google. Things like worst country leader ever (BushJr), Highest number of couontry leaders who can not keep it in their pants, etc

And we must not forget moon landings, shuttle, etc

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Joke

@James Hughes

Quote:

"Instead of deriding a attempt to make a semantic search engine, try reading up on English grammar."

Fail. ;)

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I don't get it

Maybe I'm too stupid to be appreciating Wolfram|Alpha, but its data sets are very limited if it's not population you're looking for. Even if you did want UK population data it doesn't have any figures more recent than 2004. The ONS published mid 2007 data for the entire UK a year ago so it's bizare that WA isn't using this more up to date data.

I'm a programmer and I often need to use statistics (pop, geo, etc) on projects but have not found WA of any use whatsoever. It's a curiosity at best. Google is far better at finding statistics IMHO.

But WA is an alpha so I think we should reserve final judgement until there's a final release. (Assuming they're not hoping to top Google and run with "Alpha" for a couple of years!

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