The new Wolfram Alpha search engine launched over the weekend. It’s a cross between the
smart-aleck who can solve everything and an encyclopedia. Type in "Boston MA" and you
get population data, a map, weather info and more. Type in math formulas and it returns
solutions, derivatives, integrals, series…
According to its creators, the long-term goal for WolframAlpha is "to make all systematic
knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone." Right now, WolframAlpha
"contains 10+ trillion pieces of data, 50,000+ types of algorithms and models and linguistic
capabilities for 1000+ domains." Built on Wolfram’s Mathematica, an algebraic calculation
tool initially developed almost 30 years ago by Stephen Wolfram, WolframAlpha is intended
to synthesize information rather than simply retrieve it. Mr. Wolfram intends to make "all the
data and methods and models and algorithms that have been accumulated in our civilization
and make them immediately computable." Ambitious.
Reviews are mixed — too geeky, returns an "answer" rather than links, not for math-phobes
— but it is a very novel idea to make available (for free) a tool that can solve equations, fit
polynomials to given data, compare stock trading histories, give astronomical data for any
date, solve anagrams and tell you wo wrote "Grapes of Wrath".
Give it a try. Wired found a number of "Easter Eggs" (hidden gems) such the chicken/road
example. Go on: ask it "what is 88 mph?"