# Wolfram|Alpha is LIVE

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

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: http://www.wolframalpha.com. 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

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# General

## 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.

# Using Wolfram|Alpha

## 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 Wolfram|Alpha Community site or visit the Wolfram|Alpha Facebook page.

# 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 Wolfram|Alpha 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.

# The Scope of Wolfram|Alpha

## 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.

# Data in Wolfram|Alpha

## 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.

# 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.

# Development

## 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 Wolfram|Alpha API.

# Business

## 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.

# The Technology of Wolfram|Alpha

## 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.

# 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.