When we launched Wolfram|Alpha in May 2009, it already contained trillions of pieces of information—the result of nearly five years of sustained data-gathering, on top of more than two decades of formula and algorithm development in Mathematica. Since then, we’ve successfully released a new build of Wolfram|Alpha’s codebase each week, incorporating not only hundreds of minor behind-the-scenes enhancements and bug fixes, but also a steady stream of major new features and datasets.
We’ve highlighted some of these new additions in this blog, but many more have entered the system with little fanfare. As we near the end of 2009, we wanted to look back at seven months of new Wolfram|Alpha features and functionality.
Mathematics, Statistics, and Computation
An impressive collection of advanced support for mathematical functions has been added, including more support for Bessel functions, gamma functions, elliptic functions, and zeta functions. Users will also find improved plotting for special functions.
Users will find many updates in discrete mathematics for areas like combinatorics and graph theory.
Improvements to our capabilities in probability and statistics have also been made. You can now compute any probability for any distribution that is known by Mathematica, or find the set on which the density of the statistical distribution is non-zero. You can also explore traditional areas of combinatorics such as coin flips and card playing.
Our support of computational sciences has expanded. You have more ways to explore cellular automata as well as support for string substitution systems. You can also now explore all the famous categories of fractals.
Another major area of improvement is in algebra, including better support for sums and matrix computations.
For calculus and analysis you will find more advanced support throughout Wolfram|Alpha. Some highlights include better plotting, more derivatives and integrals, more step-by-step results, better linguistics for inputting your computations, and complex analysis features such as computing the residue.
Science, Biology, and Health
Our physical exercise calculator may be one of Wolfram|Alpha’s most useful new additions, allowing users to compute energy expenditure, fat loss, and oxygen consumption for dozens of different activities, from running to rowing.
To complement the information we have been providing about the human genome, we now have the genomic structure of the mouse, including information about DNA sequences relative to specific genes.
We’ve added carbon footprint data, providing information about the carbon footprint of various activities such as heating our homes or taking a road trip.
We had a massive amount of astronomical data when we first launched Wolfram|Alpha, but over the summer and fall we added a great number of solar system features, including maps of planets, data about craters of planets and moons, and detailed information about Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. We’ve also been able to add quite a bit of information about astronomical events, such as meteor showers, and their properties.
For those concerned with issues closer to home, we’ve added information about clouds and the composition of our atmosphere. We also have information about atmospheric conditions, including wind chill, humidity, location-specific heating and cooling days, and the heat index.
We’ve spoken about earthquakes before, and this domain continues to see new developments. We’ve improved Wolfram|Alpha’s ability to understand more complex queries about earthquakes in a specified place and time, and we’re currently working on several major enhancements to our display of earthquake data.
We now have information about classes of lasers, particular lasers, and their properties.
We’ve also continued to develop our offerings in the engineering domain, with a new refrigeration cycle calculator and tools for computing psychrometric properties (the physical and thermodynamic characteristics of gas-vapor mixtures).
Which came first: the canine or the incisor? Wolfram|Alpha now has data on primary (baby) and adult teeth—with physical attributes and developmental details for each individual tooth.
Wolfram|Alpha launched with extremely strong support for queries about geodesy and navigation, but we’ve continued to add new features, including support for specific map-projection requests and better handling of geodetic datum transformations.
Socioeconomics and Culture
We added more than 20 years’ worth of FBI statistics on crime in major U.S. cities. You can research and compare data on property crime and violent crime—with detailed numbers and rates for specific categories of crime such as burglary, vehicle theft, and assault.
We recently completed a major effort to add information on medals and results for every Olympic event since 1896. Users can search for results by country, year, athlete, medal type, event, and practically any combination of the above.
Wolfram|Alpha users can now compare current housing price information for most U.S. cities, and also explore decades of historical data. In addition to specific data on housing prices, Wolfram|Alpha has added ACCRA Cost of Living Index data for hundreds of U.S. cities and urban areas. You can compare the relative costs of groceries, housing, health care, transportation, and utilities in different cities, or find out what salary would be required to maintain a comparable standard of living if you moved to a new city.
We’ve begun a major project to add domestic and international health care statistics to Wolfram|Alpha. The first phase included data on public and private health expenditures in OECD countries—with data to come on health care resources, social insurance, and more.
Wolfram|Alpha can now show and compare military information—such as troop strengths, expenditures, selected armaments, and nuclear stockpiles—for most nations of the world.
We’re in the midst of a major expansion of data on cities in the U.S and around the world. Wolfram|Alpha users can now ask what county (or counties) a particular U.S. city is in, and also explore and compare the populations of metropolitan and urban areas and their member cities. We’ve also updated our city population figures to the latest available figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, and more international data is flowing in as we speak.
Wolfram|Alpha now contains salary data for virtually any occupation in the U.S., with state-level detail; we’re currently adding city- and metropolitan-area-level data, and improving our presentation of occupational categories, based on information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
We’ve expanded our coverage of unemployment rates. In addition to recent stats for most nations, we now have decades of historical data for U.S. states, counties, and cities.
Wolfram|Alpha also has expanded information on time zones and calendars, with ever-increasing support for international and religious calendars and time computations—as well as information on many more international holidays than we had at launch.
Wolfram|Alpha’s language data has also undergone a dramatic overhaul and update, with geographic and lexical information on literally thousands of languages, from Adele to Zanaki.
Expanded coverage of music is one of our top priorities for the next six months, but we’ve already made a number of improvements to our current presentation of music data—including the display of guitar chord voicings.
Wolfram|Alpha now has the ability to encode digits or text as barcodes, including barcodes corresponding to specific standards, such as UPC or ISBN.
For anyone interested in broadcast media, Wolfram|Alpha can now answer questions about major television networks—allowing you to compare reach, affiliates, and other properties.
We’ve continued to add more basic reference material, including the ability to find the location of an area code or specific telephone number, as well as international calling codes.
These are only a few dozen notable additions to Wolfram|Alpha’s ever-growing knowledge base over the past six months; many more existing data sets—from movies to weather to financial data—are updated weekly, daily, or even more frequently, and countless linguistic and graphic improvements have been introduced each and every week.
In 2010, we will continue to improve and update all of these domains, and to tackle entirely new areas of knowledge. Efforts are already underway to add data on an incredibly diverse array of subjects: automobiles, energy consumption and prices, fictional characters, wars and battles, and Academy Awards, to name just a small fraction. As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions, and we look forward to more exciting developments for Wolfram|Alpha in the new year.