Stephen Wolfram recently received an award for his contributions to computer science. The following is a slightly edited transcript of the speech he gave on that occasion. (The audio version of the original speech is here.)
I want to talk about a big topic here today: the quest for computable knowledge. It’s a topic that spans a lot of history, and that I’ve personally spent a long time working on. I want to talk about the history. I want to talk about my own efforts in this direction. And I want to talk about what I think the future holds. More »
We have been working diligently to add your suggested features to the Wolfram|Alpha Community site, and we are pleased to announce that over the next few days you should notice new features there. We hope these changes improve the usability of the site and encourage new people to join the lively discussions.
One of the more notable improvements is the ability to browse posts by category. Categories are now visible from the main toolbar so you can simply jump to posts that interest you. Whether math, science, education, culture, living, or more, there is a place to post your questions and comments.
We also have a new “resolved” feature for posts that have been successfully addressed by either the Community or the Wolfram|Alpha Team and suggestions that have been implemented on Wolfram|Alpha or the Community site. When you click the “Resolved” button, an email is sent to the Wolfram|Alpha Team suggesting the post is resolved. If the Wolfram|Alpha Team agrees the post has been adequately addressed, the post will then appear under the Resolved tab, available for viewing in just one click.
Other new features include automatically updated pods in the sidebar featuring the most recent posts from the Wolfram|Alpha Team and on the Wolfram|Alpha Blog, improved search, and the Wolfram|Alpha navigation bar at the top of the site.
We plan to make further improvements to the Community, and would love to hear your ideas about how we can make it better. Please post your ideas under the Usability tab on the Wolfram|Alpha Community once it goes live.
He’s developing some of the most popular frameworks in Wolfram|Alpha. She’s on the front lines of handling and managing all of your feedback. Meet them both in Part 3 of our video series, “A Moment with the Wolfram|Alpha Developers”:
We are pleased to announce that Wolfram|Alpha is featured on the cover of the July/August 2009 issue of MIT’s Technology Review magazine. The article provides industry context for the project as well as an inside perspective on the events leading up to the launch. The issue, including an 8-page spread focusing on Wolfram|Alpha, is available online today and should arrive in subscriber mailboxes this week.
The story includes exclusive interviews with Stephen Wolfram and other members of the Wolfram|Alpha team. The following is an excerpt from the piece:
“Williams wasn’t toiling in a redoubt of Silicon Valley Web entrepreneurs but in a midwestern citadel of science geeks: Wolfram Research, in Champaign, IL, housed in an office block overlooking a Walgreens and a McDonald’s. This was the corporate lair of Stephen Wolfram, the physicist and maker of Mathematica, which is generally acknowledged to be the most complete technical and graphical software for mathematicians, scientists, and engineers. Williams was working on something his company was calling a “computational knowledge engine”: Wolfram Alpha. In response to questions, Alpha was meant to compute answers rather than list Web pages. It would consist of three elements, honed by hand in Champaign: a constantly expanding collection of data sets, an elaborate calculator, and a natural-language interface for queries.”
To read more, visit the Technology Review website, or look for the new issue on United States’ newsstands.
We have been highlighting ways Wolfram|Alpha can be a part of your daily life, and we think you will find it a great addition to your other travel resources. Whether you are traveling for business or pleasure, Wolfram|Alpha can become a part of your planning by providing essential data.
Let’s say you live in San Francisco, California and want to fly to Miami, Florida. Type “San Francisco airports” into Wolfram|Alpha, and your results conveniently include the airport code “SFO” for the San Francisco International Airport. You can use Wolfram|Alpha to instantly access all codes for all U.S. airports, even those as obscure as 11II. Results also list elevation of the airport, number of runways, local time, and other nearby airports in case you want to search for better alternatives for your departure and arrival cities.
The enthusiasm and support from all of our users has been nothing short of inspiring. We will continue to incorporate your suggestions as we keep building Wolfram|Alpha. We invite you to take a look back on our journey through insightful stories that highlight some of the interesting issues and challenges that opened up dialogues among our community of users.
In recent blog entries we have been highlighting ways Wolfram|Alpha can compute complex data to be helpful in our everyday lives. Yesterday, we discussed how Wolfram|Alpha can help us track all the good (and not so good) nutrients we put in our bodies. Some indications of how well we may, or may not, be doing in that area are measurements of the human body. Wolfram|Alpha has some easy and fun tools to create general or personalized reports for adults and kids alike. As a reminder, all Wolfram|Alpha medical results are based on statistical data, and are not medical advice.
For adults, Wolfram|Alpha can compute body statistics such as your body mass index (BMI), body surface area, and body measurements based on factors such as age, height, weight, and gender. The results of these computations can give you an understanding of the number of calories your body needs daily; recommended body weight based on your gender, age, and height; typical organ properties such as lung capacity; and more. More »
Wolfram|Alpha has the powerful ability to compute complex data into insightful outputs that can be helpful tools in our everyday lives. One area where this is most evident is the Wolfram|Alpha collection of food and nutrition information. Users have marveled over how quick and easy it is to analyze nutrition information for their favorite homemade recipes, and compare nutritional values of everything from dietary staples to those occasional indulgences. More »
We’re pleased to announce that our own Russell Foltz-Smith, a dynamic member of the Wolfram|Alpha business development team, will be interviewed onstage by Nova Spivack, CEO and founder of Radar Networks, which develops semantic social software such as Twine. The interview is part of a special session at the fifth annual Semantic Technology Conference on Wednesday, June 17 at 12:30pm U.S. PDT in San Jose, California.
The interview will focus on going beyond the recent launch news to discuss what’s “under the hood”, so to speak, as well as what’s on the road map for Wolfram|Alpha over the next few months. Nova and Russell will also explore some of the bigger-picture ramifications of computational knowledge, in areas such as education, science, and even ethics.
One of the most popular Wolfram|Alpha features is the name directory. Whether you’re researching your own name or brainstorming baby names, the Wolfram|Alpha given name directory is a fun tool you can use to compare name popularity and statistics.
You can learn a lot about popular culture and history by tracking the popularity of given names. One historical example is the name Roosevelt, which celebrated two bursts of popularity, during the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
To view a pop culture example, enter the names Farrah, Mallory, and Britney into Wolfram|Alpha. The charted results show how these names peaked at different times. Note that Farrah’s spike in the late 1970s occurs at the time of Fawcett’s Charlie’s Angels fame, Mallory’s spike in popularity appears when Family Ties debuted in 1982, and Britney’s second spike coincides with Spears’ first album release in 1999. The data often has larger implications than just name popularity; think of it as a visual representation of a generation’s cultural influences.
The Wolfram|Alpha name database currently contains U.S. name data dating back to 1880, with international data to follow in the coming months. So whether you’re a parent seeking more information on baby names or are curious to find out more information on your own name, Wolfram|Alpha has the power to compute insightful results.
We love all the feedback that comes pouring in from the Wolfram|Alpha community, and iPhone users have been begging to have Wolfram|Alpha just a touch away since the beginning. We invite you to checkout the Wolfram|Alpha iPhone and iPod mobile page that lets you compute queries, watch the Wolfram|Alpha overview video, view our gallery of examples, and more, all while on the go. See below for instructions on how you can add the Wolfram|Alpha icon to your home screen.
We have also noted the wide interest in having a full Wolfram|Alpha application for the iPhone and other mobile devices. Tell us more! What bells and whistles would be in your ideal Wolfram|Alpha application? Join the the conversation on this topic taking place on the Wolfram|Alpha Community site. More »
Whether you’re a casual user of Wolfram|Alpha or an enthusiast, we have designed several cool tools that put Wolfram|Alpha at your fingertips.
Give these tools a test drive and tell us what you think.
You can access all of these through the Downloads link at the top of Wolfram|Alpha.
If you’ve been following the launch of Wolfram|Alpha, then you have probably heard that two supercomputer-class systems are a big part of what is behind the scenes. One of them is the R Smarr system, belonging to our good friends at R Systems, which is featured in this video. The other is our custom Dell system, highlighted in the Rack ‘n’ Roll video. (That’s me in the blue shirt and the crazy blond hair.) Between the two of them, we can handle around 1800 queries per second (qps). Many people have asked about how we pulled together all of this infrastructure.
First, some background.
Back in mid-March our development team was intensely focused on building Wolfram|Alpha. As each day went by, the pace of development was accelerating and the further we progressed, the faster Wolfram|Alpha was growing in both content and functionality. On the infrastructure side, we had put in place a prudent plan. We knew the rollout would have an audience of early adopters amongst the professional audiences that our company is very familiar with, and we had planned accordingly for a capacity of 200 queries per second. A few colocations spread throughout the United States should do the job; we were well on track to set them up in plenty of time. And we thought that our “I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that” message would be seen occasionally in the first few weeks if there was overflow beyond our capacity. More »
There’s new data flowing into Wolfram|Alpha every second. And we’re always working very hard to develop the core code and data for the system. In fact, internally, we have a complete new version of the system that’s built every day. But before we release this version for general use, we do extensive validation and testing.
In addition to real-time data updates, we’ve made a few changes to Wolfram|Alpha since its launch three weeks ago. But today, as one step in our ongoing, long-term development process, we’ve just made live the first broad updates to the core code and data of Wolfram|Alpha. More »
Today if you give input to Wolfram|Alpha in a language other than English, you’ll most likely see something like:
But in making Wolfram|Alpha accessible to as many people around the world as possible, our goal is eventually to have it understand every one of these languages.
A certain amount of Wolfram|Alpha input is actually quite language independent—because it’s really in math, or chemistry, or some other international notation, or because it’s asking about something (like a place) that’s always referred to by the same name.
But inevitably many inputs do depend on human language—and in fact even now about 5% of all inputs that are given try to use a language other than English.
Wolfram|Alpha knows quite a bit about the general properties of essentially every language (Spanish, Swahili, ….) But it doesn’t yet know how to interpret input in any language other than English. More »
Wolfram|Alpha is a fascinating and exciting project. What’s made it possible is the terrific team we’ve built around it. And what will make Wolfram|Alpha even stronger is adding more world-class talent to our team.
We believe our mission to make all of the world’s knowledge computable is an important one. While we’ve come a long way, there’s still plenty of work to do—more knowledge needs to be added and updated and new capabilities need to be introduced. We’re ready now to begin bringing more people on board to help us pursue our goals.
A project like Wolfram|Alpha requires a remarkable spectrum of talents—technologists, content experts in almost every conceivable subject area, business experts… and the list goes on.
We are happy to be adding to our outstanding team as we take Wolfram|Alpha into the future. We hope you’ll consider joining us on our journey.
Our team is hard at work going through the tens of thousands of comments, suggestions, and questions coming in about Wolfram|Alpha.
We thought you’d enjoy hearing Stephen Wolfram respond to some of this feedback directly.
This Thursday, June 4, at 4 pm US CDT, we invite you to join us for a live webcast as Stephen answers some of the questions you’ve sent in. He’ll discuss the problems, the fixes, the future, and more.
If you have a question you’d like Stephen to answer, post it as a comment to this blog post.
We’ll also be taking questions live on the justin.tv chat during the webcast.
Thanks again for all of your interest and support. We look forward to sharing this live webcast with you.