This is a fascinating site that will no doubt be of interest to people reading this blog: Wolfram Research, the makers of Mathematica, have just released an online computational knowledge engine called Wolfram|Alpha. To get a feel for some of the capabilities of the engine I recommend spending some time looking through their gallery of examples.
Just playing around with it proves a genuinely interesting experience. Here are some of my own example searches:
- Information on the town where I live
- How Autodesk’s stock has been performing against Microsoft’s
- The results of mathematical formulae
- Fun with fractals
- The molecular weight of chemical compounds
- The price (and nuclear half-life?!?) of gold
- Foreign exchange rates and performance
- Unit conversion for fuel consumption
That said, you shouldn’t expect it to know much about programming languages. :-)
It turns out that this kind of tool is (one of) the brave new frontier(s) of search: Google is also due to launch its Google Squared service in the coming weeks, which will provide more interpretive, tabular display of data out there in the web.
This seems to be a key difference between the services: Wolfram|Alpha provides access to data that gets imported into its own servers (apparently 10 terabytes or so of the stuff) whereas Google Squared is about making sense of and tabulating the results of web searches. And from what I can tell I fully expect them to be complimentary: although not impossible for Google to duplicate, I can see Wolfram has made use of their twenty-odd year investment in Mathematica to create something really compelling. Time will tell.
Please do post your favourite Wolfram|Alpha searches (if we can really call them that – I suppose they should really be called “computations”) as comments on this post – I’m sure people will be interested to check them out.
Oh, and it’s also possible to embed access to Wolfram|Alpha in your website, if you so wish...