Friday, June 26, 2009

WolframAlpha to Know Everything

Stephen Wolfram is at it again. Not satisfied to rest on his laurels after creating Mathmatica and it's several incarnations, Wolfram's company WolframAlpha is engaged in a long-term project to "make all systematic knowledge immediately computable by anyone." WolframAlpha is built on a code base that now includes over 5 million lines of symbolic Mathematica code...but according to site information, it's only getting started. And they're off to a mighty fine start!

Try for yourself. Enter a couple words. The site suggests stocks, but I tried something off-chart, like "financial analysts" and learned within a second that there are about 228,300 people who claim the title of financial analyst and their numbers are growing at a rate of almost 16% annually.

Twitter, according to WolframAlpha has 360 million "page views" each day from 47 million visitors and is the 15th highest-ranked site. Hmmm, I wonder who the others are. When I enter a phrase it doesn't know how to handle ("web ranking"), Alpha gives me a list of suggestions, including some tips for good results.

  • The service answers specific questions rather than giving general topics.
  • You can only get answers about objective facts.
  • It can only answer what it knows about.
  • It only shares (and presumably has) public information.
  • It likes fewer words, but specific requests.
  • It prefers whole words.

So, given these parameters, I decided to ask some real questions, like how debt each American owes:

us debt / us population = 26,351 per person (2007 estimate)

Oh, to go back to 2007 debt levels! ;-)

WolframAlpha will also present you with relevant formulas if you search on terms and phrases like "credit card debt," "mortgage," or "amortization." It will also try to present you with diagrams and maps where relevant.

It will even tell you the "weather in Honolulu when Barack Obama was born". It was, by the way, 76 to 86 degrees and 60% humidity on August 4, 1961 in Honolulu.

In a world, WolframAlpha, you Rock! (which happens to be a surname for 0.0069% of people.