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.
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.
Recently, we had the opportunity to showcase Wolfram|Alpha at a local TECH cocktail event in Champaign, Illinois. Our video team had the camera rolling as people got their first look at Wolfram|Alpha. Here’s what they had to say:
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’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.
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.
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.
Take a peek at our system administration team hard at work on one of the
many pre-launch projects.
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.