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The Development Team

Wolfram|Alpha Developers Answer Your Questions

January 8, 2010 —
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During the holidays we posted “New Features in Wolfram|Alpha: Year-End Update” highlighting some of the most notable datasets and enhancements added to Wolfram|Alpha since its launch this past May. We are thrilled by the questions and feedback many of you posted in the comments section. Your feedback is incredibly valuable to the development of Wolfram|Alpha. Many of the additions presented in the post were the result of previous suggestions from Wolfram|Alpha users.

We hope to continue this dialogue as we update Wolfram|Alpha’s ever-growing knowledge base in 2010. You wrote 170-plus comments to the “Year-End Update” post, and we’ve sent questions from those comments to Wolfram|Alpha’s developers and domain experts for answers. We’ll be reporting their responses in a series of blog posts.

So without further ado…

Q: Wonderful to hear about, yet my regular challenge raises its head again. I type in “plasma physics” and get a definition—but nothing more. I type in “plasma temperatures”, “gas plasma”, “ionized gas” and get nothing. I applaud the notion of making sure Wolfram|Alpha has information relevant to the public interest (ecology, environment, employment, salaries, cost of living, and all that), but you’re missing an entire branch of physics and an entire state of matter. I’d love to compute, for example, the temperature of a certain firework as it explodes, and then relate that to whether the chemicals within have been heated to plasma or are simply burning brightly, and which additives burn the longest (and thus have more chance of landing on the audience while still hot). Pure exploration of data based on something cool and pretty.

On the other hand, the more you add, the more holes you’ll find as people search and then become frustrated when specific things they want aren’t available. Please keep tracking your “cannot find” results!

A: Although we haven’t yet covered every possible domain of knowledge, that’s certainly our goal—and feedback like yours is definitely considered and added to our “to-do” list. Each time a query produces one of those “Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure how to compute an answer from your input” messages, it shows up in our logs. Sometimes we have the data, but need to tweak Wolfram|Alpha’s linguistic code so it recognizes more types of questions. If we don’t have the data, someone looks closely at your question and at sources that might be able to answer such questions, and more often than not those sources are incorporated into our planning. Many of the features mentioned in our year-end review were direct responses to user requests, and many more are in the works.

Jim Clough
Q: I have just downloaded W/A for iPhone, but haven’t had much chance to try it yet. Two questions:

1. My first query to W/A, about Olympic marathon winners, failed “Could not connect to a W/A server” or something like that. I thought the point of the downloaded version was to free you from wi fi restrictions.
2. Given the ever changing nature of knowledge and your impressive programme of developments, can iPhone customers expect updates in the future?

A: As we’ve noted before, the iPhone and iPod touch are terrific platforms, but they simply aren’t powerful enough to solve many queries in a reasonable amount of time, if at all; the Wolfram|Alpha App for the iPhone does require an internet connection. Users of the app will therefore benefit from all the same data and algorithm updates that are added weekly to the main Wolfram|Alpha website, as well as ongoing bug fixes and enhancements to the app itself.

Q: Nice that you keep adding data and computation features, but they are of no use if one can’t access them. When will you work on the user interface?

As an example, I’m trying to place the deepest point of earth on a map. The best query I’ve got (through too many iterations of trial/error and “Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure how to compute an answer from your input”) is:
“map of the coordinates of the deepest point of the pacific ocean”

If you change it to “map of the coordinates of the deepest point of the deepest ocean”, it fails.

When will you publish some kind of API that lets us choose WHAT we want to do with our input data, instead of relying on some ambiguous-and-unknown hidden pseudo-natural processing language of a query box?

Or at least a GUI that lets us choose what kind of visualization will be used, and which keeps track of the sub-queries (so that the “deepest ocean” query doesn’t stop working when used inside a larger one).

A: In this case, the main problem isn’t user interface, it’s a lack of data. We’re working on ocean floor features and bathymetric data in Wolfram|Alpha, but at the moment a property like “maximum depth” of a given ocean doesn’t have specific coordinates attached to it.

Your interface suggestions are duly noted, however––and the Wolfram|Alpha API is available now, with other tools coming soon.

How does it do that?

Did you, the developers, enter these answers or does it utilize some kind of human speech recognition based on the synonyms networks?

Also, I got it to crash a few times, sorry about that. Didn’t exploit a bug, so it’s not Wolfram’s fault, I intentionally entered an input that would make it crash.

How does it do “this”:

A: You don’t really want us to reveal ALL our secrets, do you?

David Gray
Q: Taking into account that CO2 forms less than 0.04% of the atmosphere, and that man-made CO2 accounts for maybe one-sixteenth of plant and animal produced CO2, can we please have some accurate, independent scientific data on global warming.

A: You’re right that “accurate” and “independent” data is hard to find in this field—we are currently working on global climate information, with data representing literally dozens of different sources, sampling methods, and climate models. We’ll start rolling out portions of this data soon, so please keep watching the blog for further announcements.

We’ll continue to address more questions in upcoming posts. In the meantime, we invite you to make comments and suggestions to our team. We’d also like to point you to the Wolfram|Alpha Community site. It is a great resource for talking with others about how you use Wolfram|Alpha, sending bugs and suggestions to us, and creating your own discussion topics.


Could Wolfram|Alpha help us gather data to understand better / support / prove the theory proposed by Garrett Lisi on the videos below:



Posted by Luis January 8, 2010 at 11:04 pm

When do you think,WolframAlpha will be able to work with inputs made in other languages,for instance romanian? One year from now ? Two ?

I understand that it is possible and that is working on it that WolframAlpha to operate with inputs and to display results in other languages,beside english but could you give us some updates on this subject ?

I know everthing is takeing time but i think that when that day will come,when users of WolframAlpha will be able to use their natural language …will be an major step foreward,will made history !

I dont`t know if you realize that but you must imagine the possibilities and the benefits of that.

Posted by ionut January 11, 2010 at 7:38 am

Instead of command line input,how about an option for 2D,textbook style entry for equations,calculations etc.
This would aid in more accurate inputs,not having to know how many parenthesis are needed,and aesthetically pleasing.

Posted by Kenrick January 11, 2010 at 9:56 pm

I like Wolfram Alpha

Posted by Kejie January 12, 2010 at 12:13 am

I have six points on a graph (pairs of (x,y) numbers) and I would like Wolfram Alpha to give me the formula for the curve which best fits it – how do I do this, please? [The points are (10, 32) (20,21) (30,15) (40,12) (50,10) (60,9) ]

Posted by Maggie the organiser January 15, 2010 at 11:13 am

Maybe you need to add this to more mobile platform like WM and Android and Java…

Sometime i want to use this to calculate instead of my own Mathematica…;cause Mathematica always download thing from the server and it is extremely slow…So i may use code in Mathematica to Calculate…But when I type “WeatherData[“New York”,”2007 5 30″]…It seems that your kernel cannot understand…That’s a pity!

Anyway…I like this website…
WIsh you a better product

Posted by John January 16, 2010 at 3:12 am

Could Wolfram|Alpha help us to analysis unknown drawn curve and to what distribution function belong?

Posted by Fatin January 16, 2010 at 9:25 am

I have a huge non linear function in 4 variables that I would minimize but I dont know how
so can you explain it to me with an example for constraint and unconstraint non linear programming

Posted by Ash January 19, 2010 at 3:41 pm

What is Operation Iraqui Freedom?

Posted by Rose-ann ducoy January 21, 2010 at 6:24 pm

can you tell me the background of operation iraqui freedom?

Posted by Rose-ann ducoy January 21, 2010 at 6:25 pm

can you tell me the how many casualties of operation iraqui freedom?

Posted by Rose-ann ducoy January 21, 2010 at 6:27 pm


Thank you for creating such a fantastic search tool. I was first introducted to this site at school when attempting to solve an algebraic expression. While using the computer at school, I was able to view the “Show Steps” button in the Result Pod. When I used your site from my home computer, the “Show Steps” button did not appear in the Result Pod. I tried several different math problems and was unable to view the steps that were used to solve the problem.

My computer’s O/S is Vista Home Premium Edition w/SP2; the browsers that I use are: IE 8.0.6001.18882 and FireFox version 3.5.7. I changed the settings in both browsers to allow pop-ups and I lowered the security settings, but this did not resolve the problem. Both of my browsers accept cookies.

Any information that you may have to help me solve this issue would be very much appreciated. Again, thank you so much for putting together and making available such a great search tool.

Kind regards,
Robin G.

Posted by Robin G. January 25, 2010 at 4:11 am

I am trying to do my second program : from a given sequence of unknown length ( number of terms in the sequence), do the differences of each term by the other in the sequence until i get only one term, listing all the sequences in absolute values …i have tried the nest list function and others but the alpha query gives only near results to it like the sequence of number ^2. It seems like a very simple program but i can not make it.

Posted by luis felipe January 27, 2011 at 3:15 pm