To mark the second anniversary of the launch of Wolfram|Alpha, I did an interactive webcast:
Here’s a transcript of my introduction:
[Note: here is what I wrote for Wolfram|Alpha's first anniversary a year ago.]
So, as of today, Wolfram|Alpha has officially been out in the wild for two years.
And I’m happy to say, it’s doing really well.
You know, I’d been thinking about building Wolfram|Alpha for more than 30 years.
And I’ve been working to build the stack of ideas and technology to make it possible for nearly that long.
At the beginning, I was not really sure that Wolfram|Alpha was going to be possible at all.
And I think if I look a year ago from now my main conclusion was that after a year out in the wild, we’d proved that, yes, Wolfram|Alpha was indeed possible.
Well, now that we’re two years out, I think my conclusion is: Wolfram|Alpha is even a lot more important than I thought it was.
This effort to make all our knowledge computable is really something very fundamental, that’s sort of inevitably going to be needed just all over the place.
So what have we been up to this year?
It is hard to believe that just two years ago today Wolfram|Alpha was released for free on the web. It’s been another big year for our mission of making all of the world’s knowledge computable. Since Stephen Wolfram’s first annual update, we’ve been introducing curated data at an unprecedented rate, developing new site features and releasing a host of new developer and consumer products.
We’ve compiled a list of some of the new features, products, data, and capabilities we’ve added over the last year. You can explore this list here.
Thank you for making Wolfram|Alpha’s second year an exciting and creative time. We can’t wait to show you what’s next.
An algorithm is, in essence, a procedure given by a finite description that solves some computational problem. The field of computational complexity deals with questions of the efficiency of algorithms, i.e. “For a computational problem X, how many steps does the best algorithm perform in solving X?” You might think that questions in this field would be confined to the realm of computer science, except for the fact that computational complexity theory contains the mathematical problem of the century! Currently, many mathematicians around the world are attempting to solve the famed open problem P vs. NP, a problem so important that it is one of the seven millennium problems of the Clay Mathematics Institute and carries a million dollar prize. In fact, according to our logs, many of you tried to ask Wolfram|Alpha this same question before this new functionality was available! But before we talk about how Wolfram|Alpha can help you become a millionaire, let us begin with a historical overview of the subject. More »
Wolfram|Alpha is making possible a whole new very interesting and very powerful kind of computing. And with the release today of version 2.0 of the Wolfram|Alpha API, it’s going to be considerably easier for a broad range of software developers to take advantage of it.
I’m happy to say that it seems as if Wolfram|Alpha is pretty useful to humans—for example through the wolframalpha.com website. But it also turns out that Wolfram|Alpha is extremely useful to programs. And in fact, even today, the number of requests coming to Wolfram|Alpha each second from programs often exceeds by some margin all the requests coming directly from humans.
The reason for this popularity is really pretty simple: Wolfram|Alpha completely changes the economics of a lot of programming. You see, these days a remarkable number of programs rely on having some kind of knowledge. And traditionally, the only way to get knowledge into a program was for the programmer to painstakingly put it there.
But with Wolfram|Alpha in the picture, it’s a different story. Because built into Wolfram|Alpha is already a huge amount of computable knowledge. And if a program is connected to Wolfram|Alpha, then it can immediately make use of all that knowledge.
Whether one’s building a website or a mobile app or desktop software or an enterprise application, the point is that one can use Wolfram|Alpha as a “knowledge-based computing” platform—so that having all sorts of computable knowledge becomes effectively free from an engineering point of view.
How does a program communicate with Wolfram|Alpha? It uses the Wolfram|Alpha API. (These days, API is pretty much a term on its own, but it comes from “Application Program Interface”.)
As we bid adieu to 2010, we want say thank you to all of our loyal blog readers and commenters. Today we’re taking a look back at some of 2010′s most popular Wolfram|Alpha Blog posts. 2010 was a year full of product releases, such as Wolfram|Alpha Widgets and new data for everything from movies to taxes.
These selections are only highlights of the topics we’ve covered in 2010. If you’re feeling really nostalgic, or if you’re new to the Wolfram|Alpha Blog, we invite you to read more in the archives.
Just in time to tackle a common New Year’s resolution, we released “New Physical Activity Data in Wolfram|Alpha”.
After reading “Computing Valentine’s Day with Wolfram|Alpha”, there was little doubt that we speak math, the universal language of love.
Ever wonder which country consumes the most coffee or sugar? In March, we introduced new data that answers these questions in the post “Food for Thought: Consumption Patterns from Around the World”.
In April we were excited to finally be able to share “Stephen Wolfram’s TED Talk: Computation Is Destined to Be the Defining Idea of Our Future”. The inspirational video quickly became a web favorite.
Where did the time go? In May we celebrated Wolfram|Alpha’s first birthday with the post “Wolfram|Alpha: The First Year”.
Just in time for family reunion season, we published “My Cousin’s Cousin’s Niece’s Grandfather Said to Just Ask Wolfram|Alpha”, to help you identify all of those branches on the family tree.
In July we shared “Ask Wolfram|Alpha about Medical Drug Treatments” to introduce a new functionality in Wolfram|Alpha that allows you to compare how your medical conditions and treatment plans compare to those of other patients.
Kids say the darnedest things. In the post “10 Fun Questions Kids Can Answer with Wolfram|Alpha”, we took a look at how Wolfram|Alpha can help you and your little one answer common curiosities. More »
Have you ever wanted to contribute to Wolfram|Alpha? Do you have an area of expertise you would like to share with the world? By becoming a volunteer data curator for Wolfram|Alpha, you can help us expand our data and be a part of our initiative to make the world’s knowledge computable.
We’ve now made it easier than ever to contribute with the opening of Volunteer Central, the new landing pad for Wolfram|Alpha volunteers.
Volunteer Central is a place for contributors to get updates, check out new projects, and track their progress. Projects are categorized into challenge areas, which are searchable in the dashboard. After applying for an account on the network and creating a login, you can easily find projects to work on, upload them, and see your completed and in-progress projects all in one place.
Uploading a new project earns you “data points”, which add up in your dashboard. Different levels of data points will earn you badges that you can display proudly on your Facebook page and Twitter, as well as other websites.
We currently have projects in challenge areas ranging from currency data to video game data, and we will be adding new projects on a consistent basis. If you want to contribute, but don’t see a challenge area that interests you, you can suggest it by emailing us.
Volunteer Central is a fun and easy way to contribute to Wolfram|Alpha and connect with other Wolfram|Alpha enthusiasts. Use your passion for data for good and sign up to be a volunteer today!
We recently hosted the inaugural Wolfram Data Summit 2010 in Washington, DC. The summit brought together key people responsible for the world’s great data repositories to exchange ideas, learn from each others’ experiences, and develop innovative data management strategies for the future.
The summit officially opened with a keynote address from Stephen Wolfram, Wolfram Research CEO and creator of Wolfram|Alpha. In his talk, Stephen discussed the complex nature of gathering systematic knowledge and data, explained how Mathematica helps with the challenges of making all data computable, and hinted at some new technologies you can expect from us in the near future. You can read more in the transcript of Stephen’s talk below.
I spent a decade of my life writing A New Kind of Science. Most of that time was devoted to discovering the science in the book. But another part was spent figuring out how to present the science in the best possible way—using words and pictures.
It took a lot of technology to do that presentation. On the software side, the biggest part was using Mathematica to create elaborate algorithmic diagrams—thousands of them. But then came the question of how to actually deliver everything. And back in 2002 when A New Kind of Science was published, the only real possibility was to print a book on paper, using the very best printing technology of the time.
The actual print production process was quite an adventure—going right to the edge of what was possible. But in the end we got many compliments on the object we produced. And from that time to this, that 5.5 lb (2.5 kg) lump of paper has been the definitive representation of my decade-plus of intellectual work.
But today I’m excited to be able to say that there’s something new and in some ways even better: a full version on the iPad.
The inaugural Wolfram Data Summit 2010 has officially drawn to a close. We’d like to thank the presenters and participants for contributing to the success of this year’s conference.
We look forward to sharing more photos and summaries with you next week. In the meantime, we invite you to visit our earlier post, “A Look Inside the Wolfram Data Summit 2010,” and catch up on interesting insights and commentary shared by participants on the Twitter hashtag #WolframSummit.
The Wolfram Data Summit 2010 opened this morning in Washington, DC. The inaugural event brings together key people responsible for the world’s great data repositories to exchange ideas, learn from each others’ experiences, and develop innovative data management strategies for the future.
The summit officially opened this morning with a keynote address from Stephen Wolfram, Wolfram Research CEO and creator of Wolfram|Alpha. Topics being presented and discussed at the summit include data curation methods, automated data collection, data linguistics, crowdsourcing, the democratization of data, and more.
The Wolfram Data Summit 2010 will continue through Friday, September 10. We invite you to follow the Twitter hashtag #WolframSummit to participate in the conversation and to get interesting insights and commentary from Wolfram Data Summit participants.
At the recent London Computational Knowledge Summit, Wolfram|Alpha content manager C. Alan Joyce gave attendees an insider’s look into Wolfram|Alpha. He shared how Wolfram|Alpha’s teams of Mathematica programmers, knowledge-domain experts, and data and linguistics curators have been able to transform raw data from public and private sources into “computable knowledge” that can be accessed and manipulated through natural-language input. Click the image below to view the video of his presentation:
Video by River Valley Technologies
Data acquisition, data curation, linguistics curation, and dynamic visualization are four of Wolfram|Alpha’s key focus areas. Which of those is most fascinating to you?
As a scientist and a technology CEO, Stephen Wolfram often thinks about the future—both near-term and long-term. On June 12 he gave an unusual keynote talk at the 2010 H+ Summit @ Harvard, titled “Computation and the Future of the Human Condition”.
Check out the transcript to find Stephen’s latest thoughts on our future…
Today (June 23, 2010) would have been Alan Turing‘s 98th birthday—if he had not died in 1954, at the age of 41.
I never met Alan Turing; he died five years before I was born. But somehow I feel I know him well—not least because many of my own intellectual interests have had an almost eerie parallel with his.
And by a strange coincidence, Mathematica‘s “birthday” (June 23, 1988) is aligned with Turing’s—so that today is also the celebration of Mathematica‘s 22nd birthday.
I think I first heard about Alan Turing when I was about eleven years old, right around the time I saw my first computer. Through a friend of my parents, I had gotten to know a rather eccentric old classics professor, who, knowing my interest in science, mentioned to me this “bright young chap named Turing” whom he had known during the Second World War.
One of the classics professor’s eccentricities was that whenever the word “ultra” came up in a Latin text, he would repeat it over and over again, and make comments about remembering it. At the time, I didn’t think much of it—though I did remember it. Only years later did I realize that “Ultra” was the codename for the British cryptanalysis effort at Bletchley Park during the war. In a very British way, the classics professor wanted to tell me something about it, without breaking any secrets. And presumably it was at Bletchley Park that he had met Alan Turing.
A few years later, I heard scattered mentions of Alan Turing in various British academic circles. I heard that he had done mysterious but important work in breaking German codes during the war. And I heard it claimed that after the war, he had been killed by British Intelligence. At the time, at least some of the British wartime cryptography effort was still secret, including Turing’s role in it. I wondered why. So I asked around, and started hearing that perhaps Turing had invented codes that were still being used.
I’m not sure where I next encountered Alan Turing. Probably it was when I decided to learn all I could about computer science—and saw all sorts of mentions of “Turing machines”. But I have a distinct memory from around 1979 of going to the library, and finding a little book about Alan Turing written by his mother, Sara Turing.
And gradually I built up quite a picture of Alan Turing and his work. And over the 30 years that have followed, I have kept on running into Alan Turing, often in unexpected places. More »
The creation of large data repositories has been a key historical indicator of social and intellectual development—and indeed perhaps one of the defining characteristics of the whole progress of civilization.
And through our work on Wolfram|Alpha—with its insatiable appetite for systematic data—we have gained a uniquely broad view of the many great data repositories that exist in the world today.
Some of these repositories are maintained by national or international agencies, some by companies and other organizations, and some by individuals. A few of the repositories are quite new, but many date back 40 or more years, and some well over a century. But there is one thing in common across essentially every great data repository: a core of diligent and committed people who have carefully shepherded its development.
Curiously, though, few of these people have ever met their counterparts in other domains of data. And in our work on Wolfram|Alpha we are almost certainly the first group ever to have had the pleasure of getting to know such a broad range of leaders of great data repositories.
And one of the things that we have discovered is that there is much in common in both the methods used and the issues faced by these data repositories. So as part of our contribution to the worldwide data community we have decided to sponsor a data summit to bring together for the first time the leaders of today’s great data repositories.
The Wolfram Data Summit 2010 will be held in Washington, DC on September 9–10.
Years ago I wondered if it would ever be possible to systematically make human knowledge computable. And today, one year after the official launch of Wolfram|Alpha, I think I can say for sure: it is possible.
It takes a stack of technology and ideas that I’ve been assembling for nearly 30 years. And in many ways it’s a profoundly difficult project. But this year has shown that it is possible.
Wolfram|Alpha is of course a very long-term undertaking. But much has been built, the direction is set, and things are moving with accelerating speed.
Over the past year, we’ve roughly doubled the amount that Wolfram|Alpha knows. We’ve doubled the number of domains it handles, and the number of algorithms it can use. And we’ve actually much more than doubled the amount of raw data in it.
Things seem to be scaling better and better. The more we put into Wolfram|Alpha, the easier it becomes to add still more. We’ve honed both our automated and human processes, progressively building on what Wolfram|Alpha already does.
When we launched Wolfram|Alpha a year ago, about 2/3 of all queries generated a response. Now over 90% do.
So, what are some of the things we’ve learned over the past year? More »
CNN recently ran the story “Can We Compute an Answer to Every Question?” highlighting Stephen Wolfram’s TED2010 talk. The story also featured an excerpt from Stephen’s “The Story of the Making of Wolfram|Alpha” presentation from the 50 Years of Public Computing at the University of Illinois conference, which was streamed lived here on the blog. As we move closer to Wolfram|Alpha’s first birthday, we thought you might enjoy hear the story of the making of Wolfram|Alpha from its creator, Stephen Wolfram.
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Near the end of his talk, Stephen mentions that he’ll be attending the evening reception via an Anybots telepresence robot. Here is a snapshot of Stephen greeting guests at the reception.
We use this blog as a vehicle to highlight many of our big ideas and discoveries. Today we’re pleased to share with you Stephen Wolfram’s talk from the 2010 TED Conference in Long Beach, California, where he talked about the tools and methods he’s spent the last 30 years developing in his quest to explore computational knowledge.
TED, an organization devoted to bringing together the technology, entertainment, and design industries’ most innovative thinkers to present “Ideas Worth Sharing”, recently shared Stephen’s ideas with the world as a “TED Talk of the Day”. In the signature 18-minute video, Stephen discusses how his lifelong scientific pursuits led to the development of Mathematica, A New Kind of Science, and the computational knowledge engine Wolfram|Alpha. He continues, asking new questions and proposing a fourth project—discovering our physical universe through our computational universe.
“Will we find the whole of physics? I don’t know for sure. But I think at this point it’s sort of almost embarrassing not to at least try.” —Stephen Wolfram
Click to view the transcript and slides from Stephen’s talk.
Do you want to find out how advances in computational technology are unlocking knowledge assets and shaping the future?
That is the focus of the London Computational Knowledge Summit, being held at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in London, United Kingdom, on Wednesday, June 9, 2010.
We are bringing people together to discuss how the Wolfram|Alpha approach can unlock knowledge assets and generate new opportunities for the democratization of information.
Check out the summit website for further information and to register to join us!
Don’t forget to encourage your colleagues and contacts to attend.
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.
Last week we shared with you a highlight from Stephen Wolfram‘s keynote at the International Mathematica User Conference 2009. The highlight included a look at what’s in the research and development pipeline for Mathematica and future directions of Wolfram|Alpha.
In this final video of our series, Stephen shares how the developments of Wolfram|Alpha will be integrated with Mathematica. (For more of Stephen’s keynote, please see parts 1 and 2 on the Wolfram Blog and part 3, “Future Directions for Wolfram|Alpha,” here on the Wolfram|Alpha Blog.)
If you can’t see the video, please enable Flash in your browser or install the latest version of Adobe Flash Player.
Stephen Wolfram highlighted several future directions of Wolfram technologies during his keynote address at the International Mathematica User Conference 2009. Among them were new developments surrounding Wolfram|Alpha.
In the following video, Stephen outlines some of the directions in the works for Wolfram|Alpha and gives a sneak peek at one soon-to-be-released service.
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.
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’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.
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 »
It’s now a week since we officially launched Wolfram|Alpha into the world.
It’s been a great first week.
Approaching 100 million queries. Lots of compliments.
But for me the most striking thing is how many people want to help Wolfram|Alpha succeed.
Making the world’s knowledge computable is a huge undertaking.
And it’s wonderful to see all the help we’re being offered in doing it.
We’ve worked hard to construct a framework. But to realize the full promise of computable knowledge, we need a lot of input and support. More »
Max Whitby interviews one of the members of our graphic design team during the Wolfram|Alpha launch weekend.
Wolfram|Alpha is officially launched!
Wolfram|Alpha went live in test mode at 8:48pm CST on Friday. Our teams worked intensely through the weekend to complete load testing, fix bugs, and begin to address the feedback you have provided—over 22,000 feedback messages. During testing, Wolfram|Alpha processed nearly 23 million queries; by our estimates, approximately 3 out of 4 gave satisfactory results.
By late Sunday night, we were able to test all compute clusters at full capacity.
This is a proud moment for us and for the whole Mathematica community. (We hope the launch goes well!)
Wolfram|Alpha defines a new direction in computing—that would have simply not have been possible without Mathematica, and that in time will add some remarkable new dimensions to Mathematica itself.
In terms of technology, Wolfram|Alpha is a uniquely complex software system, which has been entirely developed and deployed with Mathematica and Mathematica technologies.
It’s a curious—and unintentional—juxtaposition. Because in a sense NKS is the intellectual structure that’s now making Wolfram|Alpha possible. And Wolfram|Alpha is the first “killer app” of NKS.
Stephen Wolfram has written a blog today that reports on the state of NKS and explains a little bit of that connection.
Building the ultimate computational knowledge engine is a highly ambitious and long-term project. The Wolfram|Alpha that you will get to start exploring next week is really just the beginning. Still, there are a lot of ways that you might use Wolfram|Alpha.
In this screencast, Stephen Wolfram gives a quick introduction and demo of today’s Wolfram|Alpha.
When Wolfram|Alpha launches, it will be one of the most computationally intensive websites on the internet. There is no way to know exactly how much traffic to expect, especially during the initial period immediately following our launch, but we’re working hard to put reasonable capacity in place. Will we have enough computing power to provide computable knowledge for everyone who visits? We hope so.
We’ll service Wolfram|Alpha from five distributed colocation facilities, which we somewhat unimaginatively call locations 0, 2, 3, 4, 5 (1 as a backup). What computing power have we gathered in these facilities for launch day? Two supercomputers, just about 10,000 processor cores, hundreds of terabytes of disks, a heck of a lot of bandwidth, and what seems like enough air conditioning for the Sahara to host a ski resort. More »
There were lots of interesting questions and comments, particularly about the broader intellectual context of Wolfram|Alpha.
There’s really a very long and rich history behind the kinds of things we’re doing with Wolfram|Alpha.
And in fact, a little while ago my staff took some notes of mine and assembled a timeline about the history of “The Quest for Computable Knowledge.” I think it makes interesting reading; there’s quite a diverse collection of elements, some very well known, some not.
I’ve always been particularly struck by Gottfried Leibniz’s role. He really had pretty much the whole idea of Wolfram|Alpha—300 years ago.
Our teams are working hard to meet our goal of having Wolfram|Alpha ready for you in just a few weeks.
Since Stephen Wolfram’s initial announcement, we’ve had the opportunity to show Wolfram|Alpha to some of the thousands of you who contacted us. Many interesting questions surfaced. We plan to use this blog to address those questions and the many more we expect you’ll have as you think about how you too can use Wolfram|Alpha.
We’ll also let you know about upcoming events around Wolfram|Alpha—like the first public preview that Stephen is giving this afternoon at Harvard Law School. Information on participating in the webcast and Q&A can be found here.
Finally, we’ll use this space to talk about ourselves, giving you a peek into our world, what we’re working on, what we’re thinking, and what you can expect from us as the stewards of this project.
So what is Wolfram|Alpha? To begin, we’ve named it a computational knowledge engine.