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Wolfram|Alpha is LIVE

May 16, 2009

Wolfram|Alpha is LIVE! It is the biggest threat to Google. Visit it here:

(Credit: Wolfram Research)

Stephen Wolfram has a track record of scientific breakthroughs and some controversy. He received his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Caltech in 1979 when he was 20 and has focused most of his career on probing complex systems. In 1988 he launched Mathematica, powerful computational software that has become the gold standard in its field. In 2002, Wolfram produced a 1,280-page tome, A New Kind of Science, based on a decade of exploration in cellular automata and complex systems. The book stirred up a lot of debate in scientific circles. Legendary physicist Freeman Dyson described the tome as “a case of style over substance.” (See Steven Levy’s Wired profile of Wolfram).

In May, Wolfram will unveil his latest creation, now called Wolfram Alpha. It applies his work with Mathematica and NKS (A New Kind of Science) to Web search. “All one needs to be able to do is to take questions people ask in natural language, and represent them in a precise form that fits into the computations one can do,” Wolfram said in a recent blog post. “I’m happy to say that with a mixture of many clever algorithms and heuristics, lots of linguistic discovery and linguistic curation, and what probably amount to some serious theoretical breakthroughs, we’re actually managing to make it work…It’s going to be a website: With one simple input field that gives access to a huge system, with trillions of pieces of curated data and millions of lines of algorithms,” he added.

It follows the Google principle, with a simple input box, but takes a different approach to rendering search results. Nova Spivack, CEO of Radar Networks, which developed Twine, an ambitious “interest network” Web application based on semantic Web technologies, said that Wolfram Alpha may be as “important for the Web (and the world) as Google, but for a different purpose.”

Spivack shared his initial impressions of Wolfram Alpha based on a two-hour conversation with Wolfram.

“Wolfram Alpha is like plugging into a vast electronic brain. It provides extremely impressive and thorough answers to a wide range of questions asked in many different ways, and it computes answers, it doesn’t merely look them up in a big database.”

“In this respect it is vastly smarter than (and different from) Google. Google simply retrieves documents based on keyword searches. Google doesn’t understand the question or the answer, and doesn’t compute answers based on models of various fields of human knowledge.”

Spivack gave some insight as to how the Wolfram’s search engine works:

Wolfram Alpha is a system for computing the answers to questions. To accomplish this it uses built-in models of fields of knowledge, complete with data and algorithms, that represent real-world knowledge.

For example, it contains formal models of much of what we know about science — massive amounts of data about various physical laws and properties, as well as data about the physical world.

Based on this you can ask it scientific questions and it can compute the answers for you. Even if it has not been programmed explicity to answer each question you might ask it.

But science is just one of the domains it knows about–it also knows about technology, geography, weather, cooking, business, travel, people, music, and more.

It also has a natural language interface for asking it questions. This interface allows you to ask questions in plain language, or even in various forms of abbreviated notation, and then provides detailed answers.

The vision seems to be to create a system which can do for formal knowledge (all the formally definable systems, heuristics, algorithms, rules, methods, theorems, and facts in the world) what search engines have done for informal knowledge (all the text and documents in various forms of media).

Wolfram’s engine isn’t going to replace Google, according to Spivack, although he suggests Google would like to own it.

“You would probably not use Wolfram Alpha to shop for a new car, find blog posts about a topic, or to choose a resort for your honeymoon. It is not a system that will understand the nuances of what you consider to be the perfect romantic getaway, for example–there is still no substitute for manual human-guided search for that. Where it appears to excel is when you want facts about something, or when you need to compute a factual answer to some set of questions about factual data.”

For now, we’ll have to wait until May to see whether the Web and scientific worlds embrace Wolfram’s Alpha as a major mathematical and engineering breakthrough.

Read Nova Spivack’s “Wolfram Alpha is Coming — and It Could be as Important as Google”

See also: VentureBeat: Wolfram Alpha — it’s like plugging into an electronic brain


FAQ’s from Official Site:

Frequently Asked Questions


Is Wolfram|Alpha a search engine?

No. It’s a computational knowledge engine: it generates output by doing computations from its own internal knowledge base, instead of searching the web and returning links.

Is Wolfram|Alpha free to use?

Yes, it’s free for personal noncommercial use as described in its Terms of Use. Subscriptions will be available in the near future with enhanced features for large-scale and commercial use.

Who is Wolfram|Alpha for?

Everyone! Its goal is to bring expert-level knowledge to everybody.

Where can I see a demo of Wolfram|Alpha?

Watch Stephen Wolfram’s screencast, or look at the Examples or Visual Gallery.

How can I find the latest information about WolframAlpha?

Check out the WolframAlpha Blog or the WolframAlpha Facebook page. RSS feeds are available for each.

How often is Wolfram|Alpha updated?

Wolfram|Alpha’s data is continually being updated, often in real time. Its code base is always being developed, and new versions are rolled out frequently. You can apply to test new versions before they are publicly available.

When will Wolfram|Alpha be finished?

Never. There’ll always be knowledge to be added and updated, and new capabilities to be introduced. The Wolfram Mathematica system (on which Wolfram|Alpha is built) has been in continual development since 1988.

Can I make a suggestion about Wolfram|Alpha?

Absolutely! We welcome your suggestions. Just use the feedback form, on every page.

Can I trust results from Wolfram|Alpha?

We certainly hope so. We spend considerable effort on automated testing, expert review, and checking external data that we use. If you ever see a problem, please report it.

What are Wolfram|Alpha’s terms of use?

They are described on the Terms of Use page.

Can I assume that my inputs to Wolfram|Alpha are private?

Yes, but see the Wolfram|Alpha Privacy Policy for more details.

Can I contribute to Wolfram|Alpha’s knowledge base?

Yes! Check out the Participate page. Wolfram|Alpha is fully curated, so all contributions go through our data auditing and review process.

How can I get involved with Wolfram|Alpha?

Check out the Participate page, as well as the WolframAlpha Community.

How should the name Wolfram|Alpha be written?

In a two-color rendering, just give each of the two words different colors, with no space in between. In a one-color rendering, separate the words with a vertical bar ( | ).

What are the parts of Wolfram|Alpha’s output called?

Each labeled section is called a pod. Pods can have subpods. Clickable elements like “More” are called buttons. Disambiguation questions at the top are called assumptions.

Using WolframAlpha

How can I get started with Wolfram|Alpha?

The Wolfram|Alpha home page has several resources, including the one-page summary, Stephen Wolfram’s introduction screencast, and the New to Wolfram|Alpha sidebar.

What can I do with Wolfram|Alpha?

Many, many things. Check out the Examples by Topic page and the Visual Gallery of Examples for a few pointers. Or visit the Blog or Community to see what others are doing.

Why doesn’t Wolfram|Alpha understand what I asked?

You might need to ask it differently, or it might be that Wolfram|Alpha doesn’t yet cover what you’re asking about. Try making your query the minimum number of words needed to communicate. Try different words or notations. And be sure to check your spelling.

How can I get help with Wolfram|Alpha?

Check out the resources available from the Wolfram|Alpha home page, go to the WolframAlpha Community site or visit the Wolfram|Alpha Facebook page.

How do I report a bug or give feedback about Wolfram|Alpha?

Just use the feedback form on the bottom of every page. You can also have discussions with the WolframAlpha Community.

Is there a manual for Wolfram|Alpha?

Wolfram|Alpha works by taking free-form linguistic input, so there’s no need for a manual as such. Check out the Examples by Topic to get a sense of what Wolfram|Alpha can do.

How can I optimize my queries to Wolfram|Alpha?

Use as few words as possible to communicate. Use unambiguous whole words. Just describe what you’re interested in; you don’t need to explicitly ask a question. For more guidance, take a look at the Examples.

How does Wolfram|Alpha deal with linguistic ambiguity?

It ranks possible interpretations, gives results for the one it thinks is most plausible, and gives links to click to get other ones. It often uses your location to rank interpretations—say, favoring cities that are near you.

When Wolfram|Alpha prompts for input, what can I enter?

Pretty much anything you could put into the main Wolfram|Alpha input field. For instance, if you’re asked for a density, you can either give an explicit number, or a response like “water”.

Will I always get the same answer to a particular question?

Usually, but not necessarily. Some results are time-dependent, or may depend on your location. In addition, Wolfram|Alpha is continually being updated and enhanced.

How does Wolfram|Alpha know where I am located?

It uses GeoIP, tracing back from the IP address it picks up when your browser contacts the Wolfram|Alpha server. The location it deduces should be correct to within about five miles.

Why does Wolfram|Alpha use the wrong location for me?

Wolfram|Alpha deduces your location from your IP address. If you are using a VPN, satellite internet, or some other complex form of network, you may have to correct your location explicitly by including it in your input.

How can I tell Wolfram|Alpha my location?

Wolfram|Alpha should automatically know your approximate location from GeoIP. If for some reason it does not, you can include a city or latitude, longitude specification in your input.

Does Wolfram|Alpha handle languages other than English?

Not yet. This is planned for the future.

Can I interact with Wolfram|Alpha graphics?

Use the “Download as: Live Mathematica” button at the bottom of the page to get a Mathematica notebook, which you can use in Mathematica or in the free Mathematica Player. In this notebook, 3D graphics are rotatable, graphics are resizable, and so on.

Can I get data from Wolfram|Alpha in spreadsheet format?

This will be possible in Wolfram|Alpha Professional.

Web and Other Practicalities

Can I use Wolfram|Alpha on my particular computer/phone/…?

Wolfram|Alpha requires only standard web connectivity and a standard modern web browser (with standard JavaScript).

Can I use Wolfram|Alpha on an iPhone?

Yes, and it has a specially optimized appearance. You can also keep a WolframAlpha icon on your home screen for quick access.

Can I combine Wolfram|Alpha with web search?

Try using a combined homepage. You can also insert a Wolfram|Alpha box into your Google or Yahoo desktop.

Should Wolfram|Alpha work with my particular web browser?

Wolfram|Alpha works under all standard browsers. If you can get to the web, Wolfram|Alpha should work. Sometimes browsers need to be restarted, however.

Do I need JavaScript enabled in my browser to use Wolfram|Alpha?

Yes. Wolfram|Alpha’s mechanism for incrementally delivering results relies on it.

Do I need images enabled in my browser to use Wolfram|Alpha?

Yes. All its output content is rendered as images, for consistency.

Can I access Wolfram|Alpha without the web?

No. It’s a web-based service that runs on a large centralized compute cluster. (See Custom Wolfram|Alpha Solutions, however, for information for large organizations.)

How do I change the size of Wolfram|Alpha output?

Most modern browsers have magnification tools. For consistency of appearance, Wolfram|Alpha itself always generates output as raster images. Use the “Download as: PDF” button to get a resolution-independent snapshot.

How can I copy results out of Wolfram|Alpha?

Click on them. A popup will provide copyable plaintext and other formats.

What does the “Mathematica plaintext input” in the popup for a pod do?

It’s Mathematica language input that you can give to Mathematica to do the basic computation whose result is shown in the pod.

Can I bookmark Wolfram|Alpha results?

You can bookmark their URLs. But each time you go to one, the result will be regenerated, using your current time and location.

Are there toolbars, widgets, and so on available for Wolfram|Alpha?

Yes. See the Downloads page.

Can I use non-English characters in Wolfram|Alpha input?

Yes. If your browser can handle them, Wolfram|Alpha will be able to as well. (It is not able to actually understand questions in languages other than English yet, however.)

What are the gray sliders that sometimes go across the screen?

They indicate that your browser is waiting for results from some of the parallel compute nodes to which parts of your computation have been sent. A particular slider can disappear if a result is found not to be relevant, or its generation times out.

Is there a way to extend my computation time in Wolfram|Alpha?

Not at present. This will be a feature of WolframAlpha Professional. (In some cases, you may also be able to use Mathematica on your own computer.)

Can I set preferences for my use of Wolfram|Alpha?

Wolfram|Alpha automatically adapts to your GeoIP location. WolframAlpha Professional will allow additional persistent preferences to be set.

What does Wolfram|Alpha know about me?

It knows only what your browser transmits to the web server—primarily your IP address, from which Wolfram|Alpha deduces your approximate geographic location. (Note that this information is protected by our Privacy Policy.)

Does Wolfram|Alpha remember what I have asked it before?

Not at present. However, your browser may maintain a list of what you have entered in the Wolfram|Alpha input field.

How can I compute with results from Wolfram|Alpha?

Click on the “Download as: Live Mathematica” button at the bottom of any results page to get a notebook that can be fully manipulated in Mathematica.

Why can’t I hear a sound that Wolfram|Alpha has generated?

Wolfram|Alpha generates sounds in Midi format. You may need a plug-in for this format.

The Scope of WolframAlpha

What can I ask Wolfram|Alpha?

Eventually you should be able to ask it about essentially any kind of systematic factual knowledge. You can get an idea of what it covers today by looking at the Examples. You can track its progress through the Blog and the Community area.

How can I tell whether Wolfram|Alpha covers a particular area?

The easiest thing to do is just to try a simple case of it. You can also browse the Examples, or ask on the Community forum.

What are Wolfram|Alpha’s main limitations?

It can only know things that are known, and are somehow public. It only deals with facts, not opinions. It limits the computation time for each query. And, of course, it’s in continual development—and always will be.

In what areas is Wolfram|Alpha strongest?

We’ve first emphasized areas where computation or mathematics have traditionally had a more significant role, or where knowledge is more readily quantitative. But we’re steadily working through all the content areas covered by reference libraries, handbooks, and much more.

How much math can Wolfram|Alpha do?

Pretty much anything that’s possible using today’s best algorithms—subject only to the constraint that the computations must complete in the time Wolfram|Alpha has available.

Can Wolfram|Alpha do higher math?

Yes, absolutely. It has access to all of Mathematica‘s algorithms, which cover algebra, calculus, geometry, number theory, discrete math, and much more.

Does Wolfram|Alpha cover what is in standard math handbooks?

Yes, quite thoroughly, including everything in standards like Abramowitz & Stegun, Gradshteyn & Rhyzik, and many, many others. It covers much that isn’t in such books, as well. And because Wolfram|Alpha performs real-time computations rather than simply looking up data, it can always derive new results.

Does Wolfram|Alpha cover what is in handbooks of chemistry and physics?

Yes, fairly thoroughly. And it’s not just able to look up tabulated values, but also to compute from empirical formulas and so on, and to use such results as inputs to other computations.

How broad is Wolfram|Alpha’s coverage of socioeconomic data?

For data that’s systematically available internationally, its coverage is quite broad. There’s more to do on data that’s specific to particular countries.

Does Wolfram|Alpha have real-time financial data?

Yes. Wolfram|Alpha gives latest trade quotes in real time.

How much data does Wolfram|Alpha have on weather?

Pretty much everything that’s available, going back more than a century in some places. And it’s constantly getting new real-time data.

How much data does Wolfram|Alpha have about people?

Basic computable information about well-known people, such as birth and death dates, government positions, major awards, etc. More data and connections are being added.

How much data does Wolfram|Alpha have on popular culture?

Basics, particularly about more computable issues, such as movie box-office grosses. More is being added.

Why doesn’t Wolfram|Alpha have data on a particular domain?

Most likely because we haven’t gotten to it yet. We welcome contributions or suggestions of data that we should include.

Data in WolframAlpha

How much data is there in Wolfram|Alpha?

Many trillions of elements, continually growing through a large number of feeds.

Does Wolfram|Alpha get its data from the web?

No. It comes from Wolfram|Alpha’s internal knowledge base. Some of the data in that knowledge base is derived from official public or private websites, but most of it is from more systematic primary sources.

Where does Wolfram|Alpha’s data come from?

Many different sources, combined and curated by the Wolfram|Alpha team. At the bottom of each relevant results page there’s a “Source information” button, which provides background sources and references.

Can I find the origin of a particular piece of data?

Most of the data in Wolfram|Alpha is derived by computations, often based on multiple sources. A list of background sources and references is available via the “Source information” button at the bottom of relevant Wolfram|Alpha results pages.

More »

How is Wolfram|Alpha’s data checked?

We use a portfolio of automated and manual methods, including statistics, visualization, source cross-checking, and expert review. With trillions of pieces of data, it’s inevitable that there are still errors out there.

How often is the data in Wolfram|Alpha updated?

Many kinds of data—such as financial or weather—stream in all the time. Other kinds of data are updated when they become available, on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis.

Can I get raw data from Wolfram|Alpha?

An API is under development. Contact us for more information. (Some data is already directly available to Mathematica users, as load-on-demand computable data.)

What should I do if I find an error in Wolfram|Alpha’s data?

Tell us! We’re always working hard to perfect the quality of our data.

How may I use data from Wolfram|Alpha?

You can use individual pieces of data however you want. There are, however, restrictions on aggregate uses, as described in the Terms of Use. Please contact us if you’re wondering about a particular use.

Does Wolfram|Alpha stand behind the data it uses?

Yes. Although we must rely on external sources for many kinds of raw data, we curate all data and our goal is to make sure that it is perfect.

How is real-time data curated?

Wolfram|Alpha effectively checks real-time data (such as weather, earthquakes, market prices, etc.) against built-in criteria and models. If an unexpected deviation is found, Wolfram|Alpha will normally indicate it, for example by showing lines as dashed.

How much of Wolfram|Alpha’s data comes from Wikipedia?

Most of the data comes directly from primary sources. However, Wikipedia contains excellent “folk information” about everyday practices in many domains, about the popularity and names of things (such as “the big apple” for NYC, and so on). Wolfram|Alpha uses such information especially for linguistic disambiguation.

Can I upload my own data to Wolfram|Alpha?

You can analyze small amounts of data by submitting it in the input field. The future Professional version will allow larger-scale uploading. You can also submit data to be considered for inclusion in the main Wolfram|Alpha system.

Can individuals or companies add data to Wolfram|Alpha?

All data in Wolfram|Alpha is centrally curated and audited. There are mechanisms for data to be submitted to Wolfram|Alpha, or curated on behalf of companies.

How does Wolfram|Alpha deal with controversial data?

For numerical data, Wolfram|Alpha curators typically assign a range of values that are then carried through computations. For issues such as the interpretation of particular names or terms, Wolfram|Alpha typically prompts users to choose the assumption they want.

Does Wolfram|Alpha contain private personal information?

No. It contains only information that is considered public.

Education & Research

What educational levels is Wolfram|Alpha suitable for?

Any level, from kindergarten to graduate school and beyond. On the elementary end, Wolfram|Alpha can do arithmetic showing steps, make clocks, work with colors, and so on.

Can I use Wolfram|Alpha to do my homework?

That depends on your teacher. If you do use it, don’t forget to cite it as a source.

Why does Wolfram|Alpha give a different answer from my textbook?

Check to see if your book’s answer appears under “Alternate forms”. It’s pretty common for some forms to look different but be effectively equivalent.

Should I cite Wolfram|Alpha when I use results from it?

Yes. For academic purposes, Wolfram|Alpha is a primary source.

How should I cite results from Wolfram|Alpha?

The citable author is Wolfram|Alpha. Don’t forget to include the time and/or place at which the query was made, as it can affect the result. You can reference results in individual pods by giving their names.

How can I find out what to cite when I use data from Wolfram|Alpha?

Wolfram|Alpha should be considered the source, just as an encyclopedia or other reference would be. If you include the Wolfram|Alpha URL in your document, your readers can go to the “Source information” button to get further references. Note that Wolfram|Alpha often combines and adapts data from multiple sources.

Is the content of Wolfram|Alpha peer reviewed?

Yes, the content is reviewed by domain experts. It is also extensively validated using automated testing. For external data, we strive to use the most reliable sources available.

Can I find out how specific results in Wolfram|Alpha were derived?

Elementary math results often have “Show steps” buttons, and combinations of data have “Details” buttons. “Source information” buttons give information on background sources for external data.

Does Wolfram|Alpha contain “adult content”?

No. It has no adult images or narrative. It gives only factual answers to factual questions.


Is there an API for Wolfram|Alpha?

Yes. An extensive one. There’s support at the presentation level, the text/symbolic level, and the data level. There’s also a linguistic API. See the Developer Program for more information.

Is there a developer program for Wolfram|Alpha?

Yes. Apply here.

May I put a Wolfram|Alpha box on my website?

Yes. Several different forms are available for download.

May I use Wolfram|Alpha on my website?

Yes, either through a Wolfram|Alpha box or by using the WolframAlpha API.

May I build an application program that uses Wolfram|Alpha?

Yes, through the Wolfram|Alpha API.

Can I use Wolfram|Alpha from Mathematica?

Yes, in the next version of Mathematica you’ll be able to call Wolfram|Alpha, both directly from a Mathematica notebook and inside programs.

Can I use Mathematica code in Wolfram|Alpha?

Yes. Most small pieces of Mathematica code will work in Wolfram|Alpha. In most cases, you can mix the Mathematica code with pseudocode and math.

Can I get Mathematica code from Wolfram|Alpha?

Yes. Whenever appropriate, Wolfram|Alpha pods have popups that include plaintext Mathematica input, which you can paste directly into Mathematica.

Will Mathematica have Wolfram|Alpha capabilities?

Future versions of Mathematica will be able to call on many aspects of Wolfram|Alpha, including its free-form linguistic input, extended data, and computation capabilities.


Does Wolfram|Alpha accept advertising?

At present, Wolfram|Alpha is concentrating on major corporate sponsorships. In the future, there may be opportunities for more targeted advertising. Contact us for information.

What is Wolfram|Alpha’s business model?

Wolfram|Alpha represents the first deployment of a new kind of computing technology. Many different businesses will develop from Wolfram|Alpha and its technology.

May I build a business based on Wolfram|Alpha?

There are many potential opportunities, particularly around the Wolfram|Alpha API, distribution channels, and data curation. We intend to encourage the best possible business ecosystem around Wolfram|Alpha.

Is Wolfram|Alpha seeking partners?

Yes, particularly in relation to distribution and complementary content and services. Please contact us for details on business proposals.

What is the corporate structure of Wolfram|Alpha?

Wolfram Alpha LLC is a privately held spinoff of Wolfram Research, Inc. Wolfram Research is the privately held company that has been developing Mathematica since 1986.

Can I invest in Wolfram|Alpha?

Wolfram Alpha LLC is a private company with no outside investors. There are likely to be corporate investment opportunities in other Wolfram|Alpha-related businesses. Contact us for information.

Who can I contact about business issues?

Contact our business team.

Is Wolfram|Alpha hiring?

Yes! This is a unique time in our history, and we’re expanding rapidly—and looking for exceptional technical, content, and business talent. Apply here.

The Technology of WolframAlpha

What is the core technology of Wolfram|Alpha?

There are many parts to it, each with significant innovations. Four key general areas are the data curation pipeline, the algorithmic computation system, the linguistic processing system, and the automated presentation system.

How big is the Wolfram|Alpha source?

It’s currently about 5 million lines of symbolic Mathematica code, together with many terabytes of data.

How easy is it to scale Wolfram|Alpha?

Wolfram|Alpha uses a modular server architecture, similar to many modern supercomputers. Scaling to accomodate more requests simply requires having more modules.

Does Wolfram|Alpha use parallel computation?

Yes, extensively. In fact, outputs often have each pod computed on a different CPU.

What kinds of computers are Wolfram|Alpha’s servers?

Wolfram|Alpha uses clusters of modern x86 processors, configured in modular units.

Can I get a private version of Wolfram|Alpha?

Running Wolfram|Alpha requires large-scale infrastructure. Custom Wolfram|Alpha solutions are available for large organizations.

Does Wolfram|Alpha learn from user behavior?

Yes. User behavior gives excellent clues about linguistics, which we incorporate into Wolfram|Alpha.

What is Wolfram|Alpha’s internal implementation language?

Mathematica. Without Mathematica‘s high-level symbolic programming and huge base of built-in algorithms, Wolfram|Alpha simply wouldn’t have been possible.

What web technology does Wolfram|Alpha use?

Its server technology is based on Apache Web servers accessing clusters of webMathematica servers. On the client side, it’s using AJAX(JavaScript).

Does Wolfram|Alpha use an ontology?

In effect it has a dynamic algorithmic version of an ontology, implemented using symbolic programming. It also effectively has many domain and cross-domain static ontologies, which are exposed as part of the Wolfram|Alpha data API.

Context & History

How does Wolfram|Alpha compare to search engines?

Search engines give you links to pages that exist on the web. Wolfram|Alpha computes answers to specific questions using its built-in knowledge base and algorithms. Wolfram|Alpha has sidebar links for doing web searches.

How does Wolfram|Alpha compare to Wikipedia?

Wikipedia gives you pages of narrative about topics. Wolfram|Alpha computes answers to specific questions you ask, just giving facts, not narrative. Wolfram|Alpha often includes sidebar links to Wikipedia.

How does Wolfram|Alpha compare to Mathematica?

Wolfram|Alpha gives small, quick, one-off results on the web. Mathematica is a broad, deep computing environment that lets you handle arbitrarily sophisticated problems. Extensions to both Wolfram|Alpha and Mathematica will bring the two closer together.

What is the closest precursor to Wolfram|Alpha?

In concept, perhaps Leibniz’s characteristica universalis from the late 1600s—or the science-fiction computers of the 1960s. Technologically, many pieces of Wolfram|Alpha have precursors, but the ambitious scope of the whole project is believed to be unique.

Does Wolfram|Alpha use artificial intelligence?

Not in a traditional sense. Wolfram|Alpha isn’t mainly based on emulating human reasoning. Instead it uses powerful methods from science and algorithmic computation to get directly to answers.

Is Wolfram|Alpha an artificial intelligence?

It’s much more an engineered artifact than a humanlike artificial intelligence. Some of what it does—especially in language understanding—may be similar to what humans do. But its primary objective is to do directed computations, not to act as a general intelligence.

Does Wolfram|Alpha use semantic web technology?

Not directly. Wolfram|Alpha has its own internal knowledge base, with its own extensive internal semantics and ontology.

Does Wolfram|Alpha use natural language processing (NLP)?

Wolfram|Alpha introduces many new methods for understanding linguistic inputs. Mostly they’re unlike traditional NLP, not least because Wolfram|Alpha has to deal with linguistic fragments rather than full grammatical sentences.

Can Wolfram|Alpha discover new facts?

Whenever it does new computations, it’s effectively deriving new facts. At present, is always uses established scientific or other models as the basis for its computations. But using NKS it’ll probably one day be possible for Wolfram|Alpha to discover new models too.

What is the theoretical foundation of Wolfram|Alpha?

Wolfram|Alpha attempts to synthesize all forms of knowledge that can be made computable—and uses methodology from all of them. A key general element is the concept of symbolic computation—inherited from the Mathematica system that underlies Wolfram|Alpha.

How does Wolfram|Alpha relate to NKS (Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science)?

Wolfram|Alpha makes both conceptual and practical use of the NKS idea of generating rich, complex behavior from simple underlying rules. In many ways, Wolfram|Alpha is the first “killer app” for NKS (see Stephen Wolfram’s blog post).

How does Wolfram|Alpha relate to the MathWorld website?

Wolfram|Alpha includes a large fraction of the systematic knowledge in MathWorld, adapted into fully computable form. Wolfram|Alpha gives sidebar links to MathWorld when appropriate.

How does Wolfram|Alpha relate to the Wolfram Functions Site?

Wolfram|Alpha provides immediate algorithmic access to all of the over 300,000 formulas in the Wolfram Functions Site. Wolfram|Alpha also gives links to the Wolfram Functions Site.

Who built Wolfram|Alpha?

An eclectic team led by Stephen Wolfram. For most of the pre-launch development period, the team had fewer than 100 members. The team includes experts in many fields and domains. As of May 2009, the single largest cluster of individuals on the team with similar backgrounds is 17 physics PhDs.

How long did it take to build Wolfram|Alpha?

The Mathematica foundations that lie beneath Wolfram|Alpha were started in 1986. The full Wolfram|Alpha project started in 2005.

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