The Wolfram Alpha Computational Knowledge Engine

by Dennis Moser on May 20, 2009

in Caught My Eye, Dennis Moser, Innovation, Web/Tech

Dennis Moser

Last Friday, the  Wolfram Alpha “computational knowledge engine” went live.  Steven Wolfram is the driving force behind this incredibly ambitious venture.  His previous accomplishments include publication of first scientific paper at age 15, a PhD in theoretical physics from Caltech at age 20, creation of Mathematica software, and publication of  “A New Kind of Science.”

The breadth of vision for Wolfram Alpha is striking:

Wolfram|Alpha’s long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything. Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.

Source:  Wolfram Alpha “About

What sets Wolfram Alpha apart from Google or other search engines is that it is fact based.  Answers to queries come from databases maintained by the company.  Trillions of data elements are available today.  Another key aspect is that of “computational knowledge”.  Mathematica is a foundation of the offering, and it is expected to be used for queries that yield some kind of mathematical result.

The web site suggests some things to try, and the results are very new and interesting.  For example, if you enter “San Francisco to Tokyo you get population statistics for cities and metro areas, distance, air travel time, both local times, and a word map showing the shortest path between them.  If you are mathematically inclined, you can ask Wolfram Alpha practically anything – and it will answer with more than you need.  Try “tailor series sin (x)”.

What about Wolfram Alpha and payments?  Not a good picture yet.  I entered this query:  “credit card interest rates” and got back “Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input.”  Other queries in the payments subject matter didn’t do much better.

But given the ambitions goal to “bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people – spanning all professions…” I wouldn’t be surprised to see in the not too distant future the ability to query facts about the payments industry in ways we hadn’t considered possible before.  Stay tuned!

Steven Wolfram has called Wolfram Alpha his third big project after Mathematica and “A New Kind of Science”.  I can’t wait for the next one!

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