Saturday, May 16, 2009

Crying Wolfram

If you've not heard of Wolfram Alpha, it is an attempt to create a "knowledge engine" or "answer engine." Says New Scientist:
it is designed to understand search requests made in everyday language and work out the answer to factual questions on almost any aspect of human knowledge.
Alpha was created by Stephen Wolfram, famous for the software package Mathematica. He employed more than 150 people to collect information on all the major branches of science, from the properties of the elements and the location of planets to the relationships between species and the sequence of the human genome. Economic measures, such as inflation histories for specific countries, are included, as are geographic, cultural and many other data sets.
It just went live a day or so ago, and they're still working out the kinks. I started noodling with it a little, and turned up some limitations--not the least of which that the number of users it can handle easily gets maxed out, and a very common reponse is "Wolfram Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input." Hm. Sounds ike that android in the "I, Mudd" episode of Star Trek: "I am not programmed to respond in that area." Norman, coordinate!

Still, if it ends up working anything like this demo (always a big if; when has software ever worked in the real world the way its demo does?), it will be very impressive.

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