Wolfram Jack

At the end of the day, Wolfram Alpha is a tool – and once you take some time to learn its ways – it can become a very powerful tool.”   ReadWriteWeb 

 The hyper heralded launch last week of boy wonder Stephen Wolfram’s new computational  search engine Wolfram Alpha www.wolframalpha.com/  has  stirred mixed reviews. Some reviewers have praised its ability to find the solution to complex problems. Others complain that it can’t answer simple questions. 

The Telegraph’s Matt Warman says Wolfram Alpha is a glimpse at the future of the web-a new “computational” approach. Rather than simply providing links to bits of the internet that might contain the right answer, new processes will provide, in themselves, the answers in organised depth. He says that while Google’s search, currently, is essentially parasitical, the next evolution will be to take the web and re-present it in more accessible form. 

This is where WA is heading. Not great for magpies but good for those who want  in depth information for analysis in relevant domains.

The system can’t yet cope with the complexity of history. I did an egocentric search of my birthdate (not that I’m implying that this was a watershed date).   http://www47.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=Nov+27+1941   threw up some depressing statistics: this was 67.48 years ago or 24,649 days ago (mercifully it didn’t remind me that this marks more than two thirds of a century).

 I did discover that the date of my birth was marked by a “waxing gibbous moon”, which may explain some personal predilections.  The only other riveting rabbit it pulled out the hat was that I shared my birthdate with country musician Eddie Rabbitt.  Could have been Roger or Brer, I suppose. 

(In fact, unbeknown to WA my birthdate marked another more historical-and at the time secret event-the Imperial Japanese Navy steamed out of Tokyo Bay bound for a staging post within striking distance of Pearl Harbour, which was attacked 10 days later.  What price for a predictive search engine?).

It’s early days for the new search engine. It is at the Model T stage of development, with revolutionary implications for the future. Its success will depend on the kinds of questions asked-how they are framed and in which domain-not on keywords, which merely aggregate the already popular and lack computational  power.

As Mrs Beeton might have said: first catch your question.

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