Tomato Soup, Star Trek, and Wolfram|Alpha
In his classic sci-fi television series Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry dreamt of a computer that could help its user with pretty much anything. Ask it a question; it has an answer. Need some Earl Grey tea? It can materialize it for you. Need to create a self-aware, artificially intelligent program based on a Sherlock Holmes character in order to defeat Data? Easy. While we can’t materialize anything for you or create a self-aware, artificially intelligent program, we are on track to make all the world’s knowledge computable, with the hopes of someday answering all of your factual questions. In some cases, we are doing a bit better than the Star Trek computer:
The above clip from Star Trek: Voyager shows that the replicator knows 14 different types of tomato soup. Type “tomato soup” into Wolfram|Alpha and click the drop-down menu, and you can see that Wolfram|Alpha knows 15 types of tomato soup—14 from the drop-down menu plus the “tomato soup, low sodium, with water” suggestion. The nutrition facts initially shown are averages from the 15 different types.
While we may never be able to actually serve you soup, we are well on the way to becoming your own personal Star Trek-esque assistant.