The Secret behind the Computational Engine in Wolfram|Alpha

May 1, 2009
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Theodore Gray
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Although it’s tempting to think of Wolfram|Alpha as a place to look up facts, that’s only part of the story. The thing that truly sets Wolfram|Alpha apart is that it is able to do sophisticated computations for you, both pure computations involving numbers or formulas you enter, and computations applied automatically to data called up from its repositories.

Why does computation matter? Because computation is what turns generic information into specific answers.

To give an amusing example, every school child has at one time or another written a report on the moon, and they probably included the wrong figure for how far the moon is from the earth. Why wrong? Because the distance from the earth to the moon is not constant: it changes by as much as a mile a minute. If you ask Wolfram|Alpha the distance to the moon, it tells you not only the conventionally quoted average distance, but also the actual distance right now, which can at times be well over ten thousand miles off the average. The actual distance is a figure that can be arrived at only by computation based on the moon’s known orbital parameters. It’s rocket science, if you will.

For a more down-to-earth example, consider the number of calories in a recipe. The underlying data are the calories per gram of each of the ingredients. But turning that generic information into the actual total calories for a specific recipe requires computation, first unit conversions (cups of flour into grams of flour, “one egg” into the default weight of a standard egg, etc.), then computation to multiply out the calories per ingredient and add them up. It may not be rocket science, but it sure is nice to have someone do the grunt work for you.

Each such computation requires a specific algorithm, and each of those algorithms has to be explicitly created. Of course many can be reused: units conversion or orbital mechanics, once implemented, can cover any unit or any planet. But nevertheless, enabling Wolfram|Alpha to do real, serious computations, covering a wide range of subject matters, required implementing literally tens of thousands of algorithms. Some are as simple as the quadratic formula; others are among the most sophisticated intellectual endeavors of our time.

The secret weapon that has allowed us, and no one else, to assemble such a vast library of algorithms, in such a diverse range of fields, is Mathematica.

Mathematica is familiar to scientists and engineers as the most powerful, most general tool for scientific computation, a role it has played since Version 1 was released in 1988.

Advanced Mathematica users appreciate that, aside from being an extremely powerful tool for one-off calculations, Mathematica is also a remarkably efficient programming language in which to implement complex algorithms.

The Mathematica symbolic language allows the user to express complex computational processes in a fluid, intuitive way, without having to worry about the ugly details of data structures, memory allocation, or confusing and inconsistent subroutine libraries. It is a language that feels very comfortable to subject-matter experts: people who know chemistry or economics, but not programming.

Mathematica‘s language is uniquely powerful in its ability to represent data of all kinds using arbitrarily structured symbolic expressions. Mathematica programs are not restricted to working with a limited set of data types, such as arrays or strings: creating expressions that represent the logical structure of non-numerical data, or even expressions that represent other programs, is possible more easily, uniformly, and deeply than anywhere else.

The fundamentally symbolic nature of the Mathematica language allows an unprecedented degree of interoperability between different parts of the system, and between different algorithms and data sources.

As a result, the five million lines of Mathematica code that make up Wolfram|Alpha are equivalent to many tens of millions of lines of code in a lower-level language like C, Java, or Python.

Mathematica is a very tall starting point from which to begin building Wolfram|Alpha (or anything else, for that matter). While Wolfram|Alpha contains tens of thousands of original algorithms, it also makes use of a comparable number already built into Mathematica.

The algorithms built into Mathematica include some of the most sophisticated ever developed, and they cover not just mathematical computation, but the whole spectrum of logical, numerical, graphical, symbolic, and other computation.

What can you do with such a wealth of algorithms?

For example, if you give Wolfram|Alpha a mathematical formula, a polynomial say, or something involving sines and cosines, it will give you back a number of useful results: a graph of the function, a list of its zeros, factored and expanded forms, and more.

And it will give you the derivative and integral of the function you entered. Now, computing the derivative of an arbitrary function is a straightforward process, but computing integrals can be among the most difficult problems in mathematics.

The general symbolic integration algorithm in Mathematica alone represents hundreds of man-years of development work by the world’s top experts in automated integration. Wolfram|Alpha shares this algorithm, and as a result there is literally no place on earth where you can get more functions integrated than in Wolfram|Alpha (except, of course, our own older service, integrals.com, or Mathematica itself).

On top of this world-class algorithm, Wolfram|Alpha adds a very nice touch: a “Show steps” button that gives you a step-by-step explanation of how to arrive at the answer. This enhancement, like the underlying integration algorithm, is written in Mathematica language code, and it’s frankly hard to think of any other way it could have been done, given reasonable time and resources.

This is the essence of what has made Wolfram|Alpha possible. It’s not so much that it would have been impossible to do without Mathematica, but that it would have been impractically difficult. In fact, the easiest way to create Wolfram|Alpha without Mathematica would have been to write Mathematica first, then use it. Which is precisely what we have spent the past 23 years doing.

Wolfram|Alpha is in a sense the “killer app” for Mathematica. It is a chance for Mathematica to show off the astonishing range of things it is capable of doing when it is deployed, not against a specific problem, but against all problems.

106 Comments

I’m really exited about this project. Really, Mathematica is great, and Alpha will be the biggest demonstration of its power. Maybe our knowledge of Mathematica will be more valuable in our CV in the future? I hope so.

In the meantime, you can join us in this Facebook group dedicated to Wolfram | Alpha:

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=55046613842

See you soon!

Posted by igo May 1, 2009 at 3:25 pm

“As a result, the five million lines of Mathematica code that make up Wolfram|Alpha are equivalent to many tens of millions of lines of code in a lower-level language like C, Java, or Python.”

Python is NOT a low-level language IMHO ;-) Otherwise, Theo, it is a great article!

Posted by ace May 1, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    @ace.

    The term was relative not absolute, ie “lower level” not “low level@.

    Posted by the boz May 1, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    Here Here !!! Python is our friend ! But I still can’t hardly wait to give this baby a spin! Thank you for all the effort Mr Wolfram and associates.

    Posted by Matthew Byrd May 1, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    Lower not low! :P

    Posted by Nick May 1, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Python is definitely a *lower* level language than Mathematica. It’s easy to show that when writing code to something actually useful – Mathematica code is pretty much always more compact.

    Posted by Walton May 2, 2009 at 10:07 am

Can’t wait. I can see this being a revolution in the way that the internet is used. I think that this is the Google of the 21st Century (Yes, Google was the 20th).

I would not be surprised if this is the biggest advance in computer programming and use since Woz finished the first Apple personal computer.

Posted by Dan Palmer May 1, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Google is the Google of the 21st century. Believe it when you see it.

    Posted by dr May 1, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Great, but you discriminate against small countries by not allowing us to buy Mathematica online. It’s B/S and pretty nasty. I’ve never pirated software so feel enormously negative about the company.

Posted by Tim H May 1, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    Hi Tim –

    We are currently working on expanding our online store’s sales regions, but you should contact customer service about buying Mathematica directly from our operators or resellers.

    Posted by The PR Team May 1, 2009 at 5:43 pm

Eagerly waiting for the public release. I just hope that this lives up to the hype and truly proves to be a knowledge engine as opposed to a mere full text document search. I really think that full text search has been around for way long time and what google has is a well tuned search engine with a good user base. But they haven’t taken the world forward in search space yet, and I hope Alpha will.

Posted by Chunnibabu May 1, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    Alpha probably won’t since it isn’t aimed at doing searching

    Posted by buck May 4, 2009 at 12:57 pm

While exceptionally useful for many, I’m sure Alpha is going to be the bane of math and physics teachers everywhere. Students might get all the assignments right using the computational engine, but fail the exams because they didn’t understand how to derive the answers themselves (seeing the derivation and doing it yourself are worlds apart on a cognitive level). Just food for thought…

Posted by Paul May 1, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Those who don’t want to understand how to derive the answers themselves don’t need Alpha for that. Perhaps their number will increase somewhat, perhaps school assignments will change. I think the application will have a positive impact for all.

    Posted by BoLe May 2, 2009 at 5:01 am

    Instructors can certainly allow students to reserve their right to Fail. It is not the College Professors responsibility to ensure that the student does his homework, the professors responsibility is to teach the process so that the student can replicate the results. If the student cuts corners, then the student is simply failing himself, and well there is always need for ditch diggers.

    Posted by JMO May 4, 2009 at 9:45 am

This is hype. Unnecessary for the real thing. Suggests a dud.

Posted by John Getsinger May 1, 2009 at 6:35 pm

I’m very skeptical about it. Yes, it looks very cool at first, but it seems to be very limited. There are still many “what if..” questions.
At the end, I think it’s impossible [at this time] to answer all questions. In your 100% exact mathematical calculations you’re still using information from inaccurate sciences (you have to).
What would be the answer to the questions like “does God exist?”, “Why do we live?” and so on? Can you calculate it?

Posted by Konstantin May 1, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    Don’t you prefer to answer such yourself?

    Posted by BoLe May 2, 2009 at 5:10 am

      No, I thought of the real AI..

      Posted by Konstantin May 2, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    Can the phrase “Does God exist?” be calculated? No. So why would you ask Alpha it?

    Do you stare at your TI calculator and shake it in anger because it can’t tell you the meaning of life?

    Posted by Eric May 2, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Try reading this … Why Believe in God?
    http://www.watchtower.org/e/20031201/article_01.htm

    Posted by Halbig May 2, 2009 at 3:30 pm

      Religion doesn’t give you peace of mind, it gives you a nervous breakdown. Religion is for weak minded individuals who don’t have brains enough to be able to come to a rational answer on their own. If a religious nut doesn’t know they answer to a question they end it with this phrase “It must be God’s Will…” What a cop out.

      Posted by JMO May 4, 2009 at 9:49 am

Since i read about this search engine, i’m so excited and visit often to give a shot. Its already MAY, not sure when i’ll be able to quench my thirst to try it.

Good luck, best wishes and hope to try soon.

Posted by Damodar Bashyal May 1, 2009 at 7:04 pm

here’s hoping john connor is sending the robot *now*.

Posted by pfig May 1, 2009 at 7:14 pm

I have seen Wolfram’s demo at Harvard, and although i was impressed with what it can do in terms of computations and using live feeds to compute some answers.I believe that a lot of people would soon stop using it because it is a specialised engine for higher education and above.The masses would go back to Goggle and Wikipedia.I really hope that WolframAlpha survives for the sake of students.

Posted by Isam May 1, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    I am one of the masses. I use scroogle. Google is a dud. I can’t wait for Alpha Wolfram’s, because it will be exciting to use something that actually can compute and answer questions. My dream was to study physics in USSR, before the wall came down. I never had the money for it, but I steadly continue to study math on my own and perhaps with Wolphram I will be able to get more advanced learning in Math. Who knows.
    any ways, the dream to learn and to excel in math and physics will be a reality before I die. I am sure. I will use Wolphram for that.
    Not all the masses are dumb. There are many of us that were never able to fulfill our dreams yet.
    Don’t be so arrogant!

    Posted by Dancing Cloud May 4, 2009 at 12:43 am

Gentlemen: a fabulous (in the modern sense) achievement. I see it as marking a turning point in man’s intellectual evolution. If only it could be embodied in our education system we’d see a very different output of trained minds in a decade or or so.

I wonder what Ray Kurzweil thinks of the project?

Ken

Posted by Ken Godden May 1, 2009 at 8:43 pm

I am eagerly waiting for the release…..

I think you should also consider making Wolfram|Alpha opensource and a platform where someone can write a new algorithm.This may have that “exponential explosion” effect.

Posted by Saswat Praharaj May 1, 2009 at 8:45 pm

I do not believe in Mathematics (it^s all mighty) for we live in a heavily mixed world where conventional truth (comfort, safety) neighbour the pure reason. That^s why I wait to test Your prog..how it is possible to describe modern scholar tools- how vaild are those or not. Still we do not have (I believe untill Alpha) solid instrument to rank the existing analytic (incl/PC) instruments..some outer dot for comparison & vizualisation. Your stressing of computation methods I believe allows You to systematize & depict Human environment..in concrete & multiconnected figures…It^s I believe fantastically useful still not done work// ID Igor Moscow

Posted by igor impersky May 1, 2009 at 8:47 pm

When you watch the Sci-Fi movies and see the characters verbally ask the computer a range of questions and the computer answer back with useful information, it was always fantasy.

This may be the first step towards making that fantasy a reality.

Just need to perfect the voice recognition and speech synthesis interface to Wolfram:Alpha

Posted by Ray E May 1, 2009 at 10:39 pm

The power of Wolfram|Alpha ability on demonstrating step by step mathematics procedures is both a blessing and a curse to mathematics education. For the self initiative students, it’s the best online tutor ever. But others might find it the easiest way to dispose of their homework.

Posted by CF Lo May 1, 2009 at 10:58 pm

Hi,

Sounds fantastic. Did the team ever consider leveraging or using an existing server platform or cloud complex to meet the demand that will obviously flood the service? Will you run it entirely on your own server farm?

How much of the system will be available via APIs for unique applications or submissions for consideration? For example, running it against a custom database that is publicly available on another site?

If these questions are available somewhere else on your site, let me know.

RS Love
Palo Alto, CA

Posted by RS Love May 1, 2009 at 11:41 pm

Man! We are in may!!! The site should be launched!!! I want try it!! At least give us another date, baby.

Cya.

Posted by Jorge Ferrera May 1, 2009 at 11:42 pm

This has every potential of being the best that computer science has to offer. Used in the wrong way though, it has the potential of being the worst too…..imagine someone wanting to design a nuclear bomb or an economist wanting to come up with a formula like the one to measure cdo’s that bought down wall-street…this has the potential to make computing those complex calculations a joke…

Posted by V3nkat May 1, 2009 at 11:53 pm

I am all sympathy, respect and expectations. My high school was quite good, 1,200 years old, but all my life I have been discovering this and that, wondering, why did they not tell us about that? To a big amount, the work of learning of pupils and our daily office work consist of “intelligent secretary work”, things we have to do to come to the “real work”. This “intelligent secretary work” which we use to delegate to staff people (or doing ourselves, losing so much time), soon will be delegated to W|A. So pupils will be able to learn more in less time, and we all will be learning and working faster & better. This “general secretary” will increase our intelligence and efficacy (and joy concentrating on the “real work”) tremendously, I am sure. Thank you all who work on that fascinating project.

Posted by Karl-Reiner Riedlinger May 2, 2009 at 12:07 am

I think it’s a way to harness and direct an infinite number of monkeys with typewriters to produce Shakespeare in a finite time.

Posted by Chris Knight May 2, 2009 at 12:38 am

ever the skeptic, I await the chance to ask yet another machine to further my grasp upon the riddles of our unverse. If it can help us find the higgs partcle, the edge of the universe, the source of dark matter, a habitable exoplanet, a more efficient method of energy distribution, an improved mode of locomotion, a method of erradicating pestilence, an explanaion of cognition, or even a better way to make bread, etc.etc.THEN, as a tool, it will of been a gift to mankind. Till then, the tools at hand are all we have got. I hope, a mathmatica enhanced search engine rocks this world. The timing seems right as the other search engines are now honing parameters to increase the index of responses that are the correct answer not just an answer. I hope I can ask it the right questions, cause it is gonna need some darn good math to give me the correct one, let’s get started now: what is the ratio of up quarks to charm quarks on the planet? is there any correlation of this ratio to any of the quarkonim ratios on any other celestial object in the solar system?……you know by now of course that at best, google is nowhere near AN answer, and the correct answer will require an enormous effort of mixed computations and refined recursive searches. “How close is you all gonna be?/?”

Posted by ray smith May 2, 2009 at 12:58 am

I wonder if there will be a web services interface, or some alternate structured return.

Using the moon example, if I had a web page that included the distance to the moon, I could make it dynamic.

Also, to collect data on disparite relationships automatically. Things like the closest inverse correllation to the 3-day MA of the barometric pressure in Walla Walla, Washington.

Or the price of gold vs the number of articles that mention gold.

Posted by Keith Ackermann May 2, 2009 at 1:27 am

    I think this is an excellent point. This has the potential to be the most powerful tool ever for web sites. I hope Wolfram decides to crack the gates for website developers.

    Posted by Scott May 3, 2009 at 11:27 am

I can’t wait for the launch of this awesome product.

Posted by Amit Joshi May 2, 2009 at 1:48 am

Good morning from The Netherlands.
Although I’m not well up in mathematica,I do hope being able to try this new computer search-
program very soon.
Good luck!

Posted by Johan R.Arendsen May 2, 2009 at 2:02 am

Hy EO,

Is all this&that to say you,re not ontime with the proyect launch?,

Honesty is something i hope this alpha wolf(there is another language from the heart) should not lack of.

Regards

Posted by Humano May 2, 2009 at 2:43 am

Excited to see this in action.

Posted by Rod Bell May 2, 2009 at 2:47 am

Will you also incorporate demographical data? It would not only be cool, but also very usefull to easily find answers on questions like:
- How many inhabitants does e.g. Italy have?
- How many are born between year x and year y?
- What’s the average income of a certain region etc..

Posted by Arjan Spoelstra May 2, 2009 at 3:00 am

I hope you will take “do not evil” policy for this project.
And i really hope that we will get search engine with only voluble and useful data : )

Posted by vedran May 2, 2009 at 3:09 am

If the production site actually shows steps and values for orbital calculation, I’ll be impressed. If it’ll allow me to run simple Mathematica expressions without buying the hideously expensive suite, I’ll be doubly impressed. I don’t think this will be a Google killer, at least not for me, since I want to find documents with Google, enthused nonetheless.

Posted by strix May 2, 2009 at 5:47 am

While Wolfram Alpha may eventually become useful, you probably need to solve the branding problem a bit. Stephen Wolfram, for all his talent, comes across as incredibly self-absorbed, and egotistical. Couldn’t he have chosen a name for this technology that does not have to include his name ?

Posted by big dog May 2, 2009 at 6:47 am

A great blog post… what I find very interesting is the comment that, to build Wolfram Alpha from scratch, the most sensible thing would be to build Mathematica from scratch first. What an interesting idea…

It sounds like the project has a pretty mature foundation, which is great. Can’t wait to try it!

Posted by Daniel Bigham May 2, 2009 at 6:47 am

I wonder if there will be an option to view/download the answer/result in Mathematica notebook (player) format with manupilate[]-functionality added. That would be really interesting because then you can basically generate an “analytical application” on the fly.

Posted by Eric van Esch May 2, 2009 at 7:27 am

Good luck to you all! I can’t wait to use this new search engine! Hope it’s the biggest success ever…

Posted by Pam Giangrosso May 2, 2009 at 10:05 am

Natural language interfaces are notoriously aweful. I think it is bound to disappoint even modest expectations.

Posted by Larry May 2, 2009 at 1:00 pm

There is an awful lot of criticism amongst these comments. But in view of the vast amount of time, work , intellectual thought and doubtless many headaches that has gone into the project let us wait and see if this is the “Final solution” ;-}

Posted by Richard Watson May 2, 2009 at 1:13 pm

Looking forward it

Posted by golo May 2, 2009 at 7:58 pm

I find it fitting that you (Wolfram) are a big fan of Leibniz, since I think we’re a world of Candides about to face a rude awaking.

Curious to know of any government or military interests and investments in your project. Like the transhumanist conclusions driven by Ray Kurzweil’s desperate technological optimism (N.B. Kurzweil’s contribution to the Joint Operating Environment, USJFCOM), these data handling techniques find fertile ground in the garden of the megamachine. It’s a simple matter of applicability. In an act of humanness, you assert that you’re personally against cleaning and organizing data about the public, presumably fearing its harmful application. Your refrain betrays a frustrating truth about our role as humans in technological progress, an echo that’s become frighteningly faint as it reverberates through history. We could discuss cases endlessly, but here we need only examine one prominent antecedent to make the point.

Something led us to create the atomic bomb, and the terrible product of the Manhattan Project and its threat of annihilation reformulated our consciousness permanently. You may share deep existential worries with the rest of humanity. Or less generously, perhaps questions about the bomb in this era seem quaint to you. Either way, as a practitioner of rational methodology and a curator of information (?), you probably find occasion to examine some of these quandaries and gently prod at the thorny issues, however tentatively, when the philosophical mood strikes. In the end, you probably rest your faith on the neutrality of technology, as if we control its development and destiny.

How well has nuclear technology served us? Where’s the evidence that we’re truly the agents of technological development?

A preponderance of evidence points to nuclear technology as distinctly detrimental to our long-term viability. Any interpreted benefits are secondary at best. Nuclear power too inflicts suffering on a global scale, but of course, we’re helpless to condemn a whole technology based on minor glitches like radioactive materials entering groundwater. Doctrinaires of the Cold War could even argue that nuclear technology serves as a safeguard, a deterrent that could eventually relegate war to historical artifact.

If this is so, and if we are the agents driving these innovations, why do we feel so helpless?

Consider our global climate concerns. Or global depression. Pandemics. I’m not religious, nor am I sensationalist by nature. But these wicked problems tend to take on biblical significance. These problems all trace back to technique and our blind adherence to its propagation.

As an individual and as an institution, you strive for truth and objectivity in all your efforts. I actually believe that. I’m not talking about evil intent or a conspiracy. You can’t see the true nature of your work, however, because you’re blinded by hubris and a strange luminescence emanating from a force you willfully interpret as progress.

If it can be done, it will be done. History bears it out. The train of progress hurls forward to its ineluctable, confounding and ever-retreating ends while we compulsively shovel feedstock into the furnace. You represent only one functionary; technique provides the motive force: man is powerless to question or resist, though each man has volition. Arendt’s “Banality of Evil” comes to mind.

As for Wolfram|Alpha standing up as another manifestation of these pernicious problems, I imagine the technology will further isolate us from our own reasoning. I’m talking about the incomprehensibility of the machine’s reasoning process due to complexity. Even to you. We can untie the complexity, given enough time, but that’s the machine’s domain and some degrees of complexity are clearly beyond our scale. This poses grave dangers, especially in a context where nobody really understands future applications of this technology.

On a mundane level, I find it silly that you’ve contrived to access all this data from a single, context-less text box. You’ve been hoodwinked by the Google aesthetic.

Machines do one thing very well: consume, process and deliver data. Humans can actively feed data into this pipeline and listen at the other end or position machines to operate the works automatically. Classify all other functions and behaviors as emergent properties. Our monkey brains marvel at the machine because of its speed, and by instinctive association we construct illusions of its intelligence. I find it depressing that we fall for the gag. Even more distressingly, we modify our own thought patterns to conform for processing.

This subject is more than machines, technology, methods. It’s a way of thinking about the world, modeling our understanding of reality. Any endeavor to apply this thinking to subjects whose nature transcends or subverts it will suffer a starvation of imagination. It’s these subjects, the ones unapproachable by technique, that have gotten short shrift in our modern world. We go irresponsibly forward.

I’m limiting the scope of this discussion to technology, but the the range spans all domains including governance, commerce, war, propaganda, education: corporations, intellectual property, ecocide. I urge you to explore this subject wholly and with the entirety of your abilities. Question your modes of inquiry and how to leverage your creative faculties to direct that inquiry. The rest of the process — research, integration, experimentation/testing — can track to the scientific method if you like.

Posted by Frank Stone May 2, 2009 at 9:55 pm

    Why beeing anxoius?

    It ist just another tool to enhance our intelligence.
    Every common language has a greater impact on our thinking. Who controls language, controls the minds. People first learn language by their parents, so they can not choose. Our languages are also very complex, and only few specialist know about that (linguistics). So we must be anxous of languages? Because the makers of the atomic bomb used language?

    We have just to make sure, that such a powerfull tool is not controled by a few but by the mass, as a language is (or should be).

    But what is new? In science, most people does not understand what is behind, sometimes even not the specialists, who just use scientific methods that are created by others, on the other hand science is influenced by interests lobbies and politics.

    This engine may just be another of many steps in the technical and scientific evolution of mankind.

    And what is, if WA gives answers, that doesn’t match to the mainstream science? So it could give a chance to alternative or new solutions.

    Posted by Holger Buick May 3, 2009 at 5:53 am

    yawn

    Posted by Hendrik May 4, 2009 at 12:36 am

expectations。I want to know that if Wolfram|Alpha support chinese language?

Posted by wodingdong May 2, 2009 at 10:33 pm

I would tamp down the talk about this competing with Google. Unless I’m mistaken, wolfram won’t be crawling the web, and it’s data will be screened by ‘experts’, so it is apples to oranges. Manage expectations better to avoid the hype hangover.

Posted by arbysauce May 3, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    Absolutely agree with the comment about the “replacing or displacing Google” talk. Does anyone here remember Cuil? They were being positioning fairly or unfairly as the next Google. Nobody cares.

    Perception is reality. I would hope Wolfram’s team is positioning their new service as a tool for exploring the mathematical nature of human knowledge and inquiry. Anyway, let’s hope expectations are reasonable on all accounts.

    Posted by RS Love May 3, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Good Luck, guys!
I’m really very curious about your new Search Engine, hoping it will be better then…
:-)

Posted by Marco Marelli May 3, 2009 at 3:00 pm

I’ve just written a blog post about Wolfram Alpha in which I wonder about the possibilities this new platform could provide to open government advocates. Could you give us a clue into whether campaign and political data will be included in the computations Wolfram Alpha can make? Particularly, will it be able to make calculations on such things as political donations and roll call votes in Congress?

Posted by Wolfram Alpha for Politics? May 3, 2009 at 3:33 pm

So that must be what the Dvinci m stands for. Divine mathematics. Very simple. Excellent

Posted by Wolf May 3, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Could this be used to help doctors diagnose, more quickly, diseases / syndromes in general, I wonder.

Posted by Eamon May 3, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    I had that exact same thought. This would be pretty ideal as an aid to practitioners as well as patients since it can be tremendously difficult to pigeonhole/catagorize symptoms.

    Posted by Rob May 4, 2009 at 12:13 am

just call it alpha
or
Alpha Omega
or
AO
or
WA

wolframalpha is too long

Posted by ischinger May 3, 2009 at 7:23 pm

All about doing something well, and doing it fast. Google still has no real competition in terms of the internet. Computing analytic integrals in another story. Mathematica is excellent for this. dont hold your breath…

Posted by uchiagoman May 3, 2009 at 10:55 pm

Every once in a while, a new innovation appears. It revolutionalizes the way we do things and, as the dust settles, it becomes a basic necessity – the light bulb, radio, television and a host of similar items.

When I sat in front of an IBM Mainframe SYS34 in 1982, I realized a revolution was taking place in the way we worked in Office. My first desktop in 1988 had a 10mb Hard Disc, 640kb of RAM (upgradable to 1mb) and it also had a B:\ drive. No Mouse. Except for a few visionaries like Arthur C. Clarke and his ilk, who would have dreamt of our being on the threshold of another innovation in communicating computing.

Keep reaching for the stars WOLFRAMALPHA – I will check their names, distance and ask you for reasons why you picked that particular star when you come online. Keep up the good work!

REGGIE

Posted by REGGIE (Sri Lanka) May 3, 2009 at 11:48 pm

No offense, but who the hell came up with that name? Talking about it is as inconvenient as when we had to say “the man formerly known as prince”. You might have some smart programmers and scientists involved, but your marketing stinks.

Posted by Daniel Corban May 3, 2009 at 11:58 pm

It is imperative that you fact-check constantly the highest-ranking results for accuracy. Particularly in regard to politics and the “soft” sciences where so much is open to interpretation.

WA plans on being the next Google and if it is successful in this objective it will become a ubiquitous resource and thus the answers it provides will carry a great deal of credibility. Oft-asked questions will begin to shape public perception as to what is the answer.

Perhaps the potential Achilles’ Heel is a drift toward propaganda.

Say someone queries thusly: “Who is to blame for the Middle East conflict?”

Or “Is homosexuality genetic?”

Or “Is there such a thing as god?”

Or “Best Dutch artists 1700-1800″

Or “the numeric value of Heisenberg’s relation”

… and so on.

If WA is seeking to provide the “answer” and not a selection of results, such inputs will throw a monkey-wrench into your machine methinks

Posted by Jeff Softley May 4, 2009 at 2:18 am

You should shorten the name to WA

and returned answers should be called WAWAs: Wolfram-Alpha Workable Answer

… that’ll be $1 million please

Posted by Jeff Softley May 4, 2009 at 2:20 am

Google uses a more sofisticated and most advanced technology- it is called as ‘Human Brain’. No other application as close to human brain as to our mind! Can’t beat it.

Posted by Roger May 4, 2009 at 3:13 am

    The Human Brain is slow, scattered, and most of all biased.

    Posted by tetris11 May 4, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Now, now. How can you expect to rule the universe if you can’t answer a few unsolvable questions?

Posted by Tronfan May 4, 2009 at 3:23 am

Я услышал о Вас сегодня по российскому НТВ.Заявка отличная. Думаю,что теперь все клиенты Интернета – Ваши.С наилучшими пожеланиями.
Владимир.

Posted by Vladimir May 4, 2009 at 4:35 am

Hello everybody,

After launching WolframAlfa, Google won’t stay watching, it will research and develop new ideas and technologies to keep itself giant information store!

Let us see.

Posted by Salman May 4, 2009 at 7:00 am

    I dont know. Wolfram have been leading in this particular field for a great deal longer than Google has. They’ll catch up, like they did with Yahoo and Microsoft. But it will be close.

    Posted by tetris11 May 4, 2009 at 1:40 pm

I agree with Ischinger. I think this name “Wolframalpha is too long, or may be you are using Alpha temporary because this letter may refer to a development stage of software, I do not.
Good luck

Posted by Mildrey May 4, 2009 at 7:25 am

Wolfram Alpha “Launching May 2009″ – Puzzzled what’s the final date to see it working….I guess May started…:-)

Posted by Afzal Khan May 4, 2009 at 8:41 am

maybe the search bar should say “Launching Mayish”

Posted by Kevin Puffer May 4, 2009 at 9:02 am

    Yes, try imagine the disappointment I felt when I clicked on that.

    Posted by gaby de wilde May 4, 2009 at 5:09 pm

I wonder how NKS(“A New Kind of Science”) is employed in WA(Wolfram Alpha)?

Posted by Doug Wall May 4, 2009 at 9:24 am

I have posted all Top Thee Videos of Wolfram Alpha at my blog http://askwolframalpha.com click on by if you get the chance.

Posted by Miro May 4, 2009 at 10:12 am

Lots of talk and noise around the this project. Can’t wait to see the real power behind it.

Posted by Freedilfin May 4, 2009 at 10:20 am

It will be nice to try out a new search engine with a new approach to how search should be.

As for the comment of by Roger saying “Google uses a more sofisticated and most advanced technology- it is called as ‘Human Brain’. No other application as close to human brain as to our mind! Can’t beat it.”

That is all well and good as long as you are one of the top percent of the population with a high IQ or a specific degree in your specific field of study but the average person, the uneducated person or the older or younger with diminished brain capacity or just ignorant of certain mathematical calculations or such will truly benefit from such a search engine that does all these mathematical calculations for you.

Posted by Randy May 4, 2009 at 10:56 am

… am looking forward to this … even though it is already May 4th …

Posted by CL Mareydt May 4, 2009 at 11:01 am

i wish wolframalpha good luck and success.

Posted by search May 4, 2009 at 11:19 am

Will you be able to answer questions like: Which medium priced restaurant could serve us supper in time for us to catch the 7:30 showing of Star Trek at the cineplex? That’s the kind of information retrieval and analysis problem people face that would be great to outsource to a machine.

Posted by CR Geissler May 4, 2009 at 11:58 am

How start it? wath language can wolframalpha?

Posted by halbesbit May 4, 2009 at 1:29 pm

Aguardando o grande lançamento para poder desejar as boas vindas! Estamos anciosos.

Posted by Aplique Idéias May 4, 2009 at 1:35 pm

“We’re making early access available to a few select individuals”. I smell failure. Closed, proprietary thinking will doom you regardless of how good your product is. Google or Yahoo or even M$ could emulate this so what do you offer? Be open. Give us something and you will be rewarded, shut us out and we won’t hang around.

Posted by Zeb May 4, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    You can not build up a website to millions of user in single day.. You need to scale it slowly, gradually.. that the better way to go.. think when gmail has launched..

    Posted by Rakshith May 5, 2009 at 2:31 am

i have heard lots about this project and am looking forward to seeing it launched soon.

Posted by Mobiles May 4, 2009 at 2:21 pm

If i ask for example “why elephants have big ears” how it is gonna handle that question and what will the answer be?

Posted by thes1os May 4, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    To keep cool. That’s in answer to you second question. How Wolfie will figure it out is beyond me.

    Posted by Dave May 4, 2009 at 6:04 pm

    It’ll probably say something like:
    Elephants ears are “designed” to expel heat, having good blood flow through them, and as such need a large surface area is required to be efficient.

    and point you towards more information on the subject…

    Posted by Phil May 4, 2009 at 10:09 pm

A google killer? Possibly…if I ask a question to Google, then I must hope one of google’s search engines has come across someone asking that question, and, hopefully, an answer was provided…

But there are things Wolfram might not be able to do, such as a content based image search, perhaps I want a picture of an old lady smoking a cigar? Perhaps one of a breed of dog of a certain age? Would Wolfram/Alpha be able to do this?…I dont know, would it be able to give me answers based upon items in the news? Could it elaborate upon a Wikipedia topic?

Posted by Dante May 4, 2009 at 2:28 pm

why don’t you use a simpler name for non-English speaking countries? This name will just slow down the number of users from rest of the world.

Posted by karakaya May 4, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    It certainly does need a simpler name – sad though the requirement these days is, it will be significantly more successful with a simple name.

    With it’s current name it seems to be targeting a scientific community, or perhaps that’s the intention – to give that impression of scientific superiority rather than call it something simple and subsequently popular.

    Posted by Phil May 4, 2009 at 10:15 pm

This is the first good explanation I’ve read yet for WolframAlpha that doesn’t make it sound like cold fusion.

I do hope you plan to expose the ability for users to plug in their own algorithms and tap these data sources!

Posted by Nick May 4, 2009 at 5:12 pm

Why Google killer? The concept sounds fascinating. It seems to be google and wolfram both do very different things. You’re not going to find many websites through wolfram, are you?

People always try to make things compete against each other, I think the two services can co-exist perfectly together without the need to compare them in such ways.

In the case of yahoo and google it might be different because they more or less do the same thing, but wolfram seemingly is very different.

Posted by aks May 4, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    These really arnet my views, but the views of the hype surronding Wolfram/Alpha. The Dawn of Web 3.0 and all that…

    Posted by Dante May 4, 2009 at 7:43 pm

no competition, no progress

Posted by jerry May 4, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Competition – how long before Google buys it ?

    Posted by Phil May 4, 2009 at 10:16 pm

So it’s May 2009…hum-de-dum… When do we get to drive this puppy off the lot?

Posted by Ken May 4, 2009 at 11:11 pm

As well as a “show steps” feature for computations, I hope W|A (there’s a short name for you) displays its sources for more encyclopedic answers. I can’t see its gaining much acceptance else.

PS.
I’ve often thought it would be a good idea for civic planners to hold off laying footpaths until they’ve observed the ways people cut across the unpaved site. Perhaps that’s what the team is waiting for as regards the name issue?
What about …

Wolfra ?
Wolfie?
W|A ? — Are there any tonal pronunciations of the syllable “wa” in Mandarin which have appropriate positive associations?
…but after all this appetite whetting better make sure the team provides a demo soon, or the name “Waffle” might stick ;-)

Posted by Hyoi Hnakrapunt May 5, 2009 at 2:41 am

god!

soo many negative comments:

“Google uses a more sofisticated and most advanced technology- it is called as ‘Human Brain’. No other application as close to human brain as to our mind! Can’t beat it.”

and:

“no competition, no progress”

You all must be geniuses to know, without trying or seeing that this is going to fail. Because of course as we all know we have learned all there is to learn, right?

No concept of science and it’s application.

Well I say good luck Wolfram, I hape it shows us a new way

Posted by jason May 5, 2009 at 9:58 am