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Wolfram Alpha vs. Google — Results Vary 255

Posted by timothy
from the and-so-might-your-mileage dept.
wjousts writes "Technology Review has an article comparing various search results from Wolfram Alpha and Google. Results vary. For example, searching 'Microsoft Apple' in Alpha returns data comparing both companies stock prices, whereas Google top results are news stories mentioning both companies. However, when searching for '10 pounds kilograms,' Alpha rather unhelpfully assumes you want to multiply 10 pounds by 1 kilogram, whereas Google directs you to sites for metric conversions. Change the query to '10 pounds in kilograms' and both give you the result you'd expect (i.e. 4.536 kg)."
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Wolfram Alpha vs. Google — Results Vary

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  • this just in (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Laebshade (643478) <laebshade@gmail.com> on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:26AM (#27830495)

    Karma be damned, but..

    No one cares about a new search engine. Really, Google suits all my needs.

    • Re:this just in (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gailrob (937536) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:29AM (#27830539)
      It is not a search engine but rather a factual answer database. It is quite impressive actually and I look forward to it's release as it will provide an awesome new resource for everyone. Especially students! Google - search for websites. Wolfram - search for answers.
      • Re:this just in (Score:5, Interesting)

        by vivaoporto (1064484) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:34AM (#27830613)
        I RTFA and, even when searching for answers, Google moped the floor with Wolfram Alpha. I know Alpha is still on its nest but, both sites evolving in the same rate they are evolving now, I don't see Google's dominance being challenged just yet.
        • by pwfffff (1517213) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:48AM (#27830829)

          "I RTFA and, even when searching for answers, Google moped the floor with Wolfram Alpha."

          Sure, Google mopeds. But Alpha scooters.

        • Re:this just in (Score:5, Insightful)

          by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:53AM (#27830909) Homepage Journal

          I RTFA and, even when searching for answers, Google mopped the floor with Wolfram Alpha

          That's funny, I RTFA too, and I came to a completely different conclusion. I think perhaps we have different definitions of "answers".

          The conclusion I drew is that if you're looking for technical/scientific data Alpha does a much better job. In particular, it brings together lots of relevant bits and pieces which may not exist on any single web site. Google will probably find it all for you, but you'll have to do more digging. On the other hand, if you're looking for news, commentary or opinion, Google is the much better choice.

          I more frequently find myself looking for data, so I wouldn't be surprised if my usage tends to favor Alpha. Heck, as it is 95% of my usage of Google is to search for a Wikipedia article -- and often I'm looking for that to find links to tables of data. Your goals and search patterns may be different, so your usage may favor Google.

          I suspect that Alpha is going to be a very useful tool within its domain, but I don't expect it to displace Google to any significant degree.

          • by Dyinobal (1427207)
            I've got to say I've RTFAed as well and Wolfram seems damn interesting. More useful than pulling up hundreds of seemingly random links.
          • Re:this just in (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Amouth (879122) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:50PM (#27832981)

            i would have loved to try it out today

            Google is just getting filled with spam - so many people trying to get their stuff listed that the obscure things which have value when you need them bet buried.

            the example for today - trying to find the registry key/value to force a volume in windows to be use write cache (aka Optimize for performance not quick removal)

            i would love to see the correct search query to find the answer (that doesn't contain the answer) where the relevant page is within the first 10 results

            - like how Google use to be before it was filled with spam

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Plutonite (999141)

            Good point. Google's answer to academia was supposedly the 'scholar' domain which focuses entirely on academic texts and related stuff. Unfortunately google did not hit the required niche, which is how to come up with answers that may not necessarily require an entire digitized book or paper reference. Google still works well because pagerank 'hitchhikes' on the findings of users and the popularity of certain query results, so the first page of google results usually includes 'interesting' things. But it is

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Bakkster (1529253)

        Google - search for websites.
        Wolfram - search for answers.

        I'd put it slightly differently:
        Google - search for information
        Alpha - search for data

        However you state it, though, there's definitely a different niche for each. Alpha won't 'kill' Google on everything, but for some forms of research it will be ideal.

      • It is not a search engine but rather a factual answer database.

        Feh. Who needs a factual answer database when all you need is the giant Infosphere [theinfosphere.org]. You can even learn that yes, postage-stamp glue is made from toad mucus!
      • by xigxag (167441)

        "Especially students! Google - search for websites. Wolfram - search for answers."

        That's oversimplifying things. Google can be much more useful than a mere search for websites if you know how to structure your query. Wolfram has a while to go before it can even compete with the rudimentary:

        google: "query wiki"

    • Re:this just in (Score:5, Insightful)

      by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:37AM (#27830663) Journal

      Karma be damned, but..

      No one cares about a new search engine. Really, Google suits all my needs.

      I would claim that's a dangerous mentality. I was using Metacrawler until Google came along. Even though Google is included in Metacrawler, its simplicity and speed won me over. Is that to say no one can compete with Google? Not at all.

      I used to dig holes with my hands which was painful and time consuming. When it became clear this wouldn't work, I discovered a spade [wikipedia.org] did the job much better. And I used it for everything. Though one day I was putting up fences and lamented the width of my spade's blade ... the posts weren't sitting firmly. A man offered to lend me his post hole digger [about.com] which did that specific task better. No, I wasn't using the post hole digger to dig a trench for a sewage line but adding it to my collection of tools made me more effective at my tasks--so long as I used it for what it was best at.

      The hype machine has worked, I will try out Wolfram Alpha and see if it is better than Google or can replace some of the capabilities I use Google to accomplish.

    • by wjousts (1529427) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:37AM (#27830667)

      Google be damned, Library index cards suit all my needs!

      Also, get off my lawn. Damn kids. And if you ball lands in my yard again, you're not getting it back.

      • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

        by Shakrai (717556)

        Also, get off my lawn. Damn kids. And if you ball lands in my yard again, you're not getting it back.

        Real men use [imdb.com] a M1 Garand [wikipedia.org] to keep the kids off their lawn ;)

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 4D6963 (933028)

      Well, I wouldn't switch away from Google no matter what, but if you see this more as "basic" research, eventually if it eventually turns out to be superior then you can be sure that Google will buy it and integrate it to its search service.

      So while concurrencing Google directly is futile, such research can participate to ultimately improve it, and put a few millions in the creator's pocket.

      • by wjousts (1529427) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:58AM (#27830987)

        Well, I wouldn't switch away from Google no matter what.

        Really? No matter what? What if Google announced that they killed a kitten for every search done on Google? Would you still use it? What if every Google search came with a free virus and key logger? Would you still use it?

        Saying "no matter what" is always silly, no matter what.

        • by maxwell demon (590494) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:22AM (#27831397) Journal

          Saying "no matter what" is always silly, no matter what.

          What if someone points a gun at you and tells you to say "no matter what" or he will shoot you? :-)

        • by revlayle (964221)
          looks like a whole lot of kittens are gonna die :(
        • by 4D6963 (933028)
          lol, I know you're taking the piss, but I think that to anyone, unconditionality implies an expectation of continuity and consistency with what is known and what can be expected. If you look at things this way then nothing's strictly unconditional, the conditions are limited to an implicit limited reasonable set of expectations.
        • Won't someone please think of the kittens?!
        • What if Google announced that they killed a kitten for every search done on Google?

          The Maps anime had a super-weapon called the "Sacrifice Cannon." It was a BF-blaster/raygun powered by the sheer cruelty and evil of destroying a pile of Pikachu-like creatures in a big blender. Yes, really, not making this up, that's exactly what it was, a big-ass raygun hooked up to a blender full of quasi-Pokemon.

          How about Google Maps (anime)? I'd support Google implementing a holographic babe who is actually the ship's computer for a starship shaped like a huge-ass metallic winged babe. Then again,

        • If Google announced they killed a kitten for every search... I'd ignore it like I ignore other stupid announcements that simply won't/don't work in real life.

          As for viruses and keyloggers, doesn't "every Internet" (envision former senator Ted "Tubes" Stevens, saying it) already come with a free set of those? That's what firewalls, security updates, and common computer sense (which unfortunately isn't so common) are for.

          Now "no matter what" is a pretty ridiculous claim for something like this, certainly, ju

        • by Chris Burke (6130)

          Saying "no matter what" is always silly, no matter what.

          Absolutely everyone who makes sweeping generalizations is an idiot.

          (What, I had to deal with the irony somehow!)

      • by vux984 (928602)

        Well, I wouldn't switch away from Google no matter what...

        You sound like a fanboy. That's not a sign of intelligent or rational thought.

        Me, I'd switch from google the moment something better comes along. I might switch even sooner if something came along that was very nearly as good and wasn't hell bent on profiling me .

        Why wouldn't you? Are they holding your family hostage?

        • by 4D6963 (933028)

          Oh noes, Pigeonhole Man has struck again!

          Right, I'm a fanboy, it has nothing to do that no serious superior alternative is going to pop up within the foreseeable future.

          • a) You don't know that.
            b) You said "no matter what". I don't know what you thought you were saying but that basically means "even if a serious superior alternative pops up".

          • Re:this just in (Score:5, Insightful)

            by vux984 (928602) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:12PM (#27832283)

            Right, I'm a fanboy, it has nothing to do that no serious superior alternative is going to pop up within the foreseeable future.

            Just before Google there wasn't anyone standing around saying, "Just you wait, any day now I predict a company is going to offer web search that blows yahoo and hotbot out of the water."

            Any particular reason nobody couldn't improve on google? There are lots of big shortcomings in google.

            When I don't want to buy something, but google a product for reviews etc I have to sift through piles of garbage 'price comparison sites', and sites with: "0 reviews... be the first to review it".

            When I -do- want to buy something, I STILL don't want a pile of link-spam price comparison sites, mostly pointing to companies that won't ship to Canada anyway.

            Google sucks for localized/regional or country specific information searches.

            Googles image search could use significant improvements.

            When I search for answers to technical questions (programming / troubleshooting / etc), I'll find a link to a question asked on some forum, with answers. If that doesn't help, I don't need the next 7 links all to be to other sites with the EXACT SAME question and answers. (Apparently a lot of forum sites spider each other and/or usenet for their content...) I don't need to see that. I also don't much need links to forums where the question was asked six months ago, and never answered.

            And going off on a bit of a tangent... 'expertsexchange' (WFT? 'expert sex change'??) Someone should really properly spider that waste of space. Sure the information is there... but what the hell??? A question, 2 pages of 'obscured' answers, then four pages of advertising for expertsexchange to get answers... but keep scrolling, and there is the question again, now with the un-obscured answers, and 2 pages of bickering about how the stupid effing points should be awarded.

            Sure the signal is there but the S/N ratio is through the roof.

            For me, other sites have -already- supplanted google as superior ways to find certain types of information.

            Wikipedia is for example is far more useful than google as a search tool to get information and links to relevant sites for a lot of topics. There's a reason an awful lot of top google hits simply take you to wikipedia... might as well cut out the middle man.

        • by hedwards (940851)

          They told him that every time you use the competition they kill dumbledore with kittens.

      • by hedwards (940851)

        Have you actually used any of the other engines lately? There is nothing special about Google at this point, when I switched over to Google years ago it did make a difference, but that was years ago and at this point there isn't any advantage to it.

        Plus if you use Google you're encouraging the same sort of bad behavior that got MS into all that trouble.

    • Re:this just in (Score:4, Insightful)

      by owlnation (858981) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:15AM (#27831243)

      No one cares about a new search engine. Really, Google suits all my needs.

      I use Google. I will likely continue to use Google for some time. However...

      Competition is essential. It's good for us, good for Google too. Google, and every other search engine past and present, has failed to meet my needs. It's still to hard to find relevant articles without commerce-based noise and link-farm sites.

      Image search, for example -- near worthless.

      It's also annoying to find a wikipedia entry at the top of the page rank for almost everything on Google. This is skewed, and bears no relation to the individual rank (and thus merit) of the wikipedia page. I want facts, not what some guy thinks. I know where wikipedia is, if I wanted to search it, I would. I don't.

      Google has much room for improvement. After 12 years of Google there's been little to no improvement in Search (in fact the opposite, Google-gaming has increased). Competition is the only solution to that. Bring it on, Wolfram. Bring it on anyone with new ideas in Search. We all need you (even Google).

    • by xaxa (988988)

      Karma be damned, but..

      No one cares about a new search engine. Really, Google suits all my needs.

      I thought that when I saw a TV commercial for Searchers.co.uk [searchers.co.uk] last night at prime time (I've never heard of it before). I'd completely forgotten about it until I saw this article.

      I have now gone to the home page and seen that it's a UK specific search engine (fair enough) and claims to do natural language processing. I wasn't expecting my first search, tube map [searchers.co.uk], to give me a porn site as number 1 match.

      Any new search engine will need to be at least as good as Google [google.co.uk] for at least some kinds of query for me

    • by AlHunt (982887)

      >No one cares about a new search engine. Really, Google suits all my needs.

      Maybe you have needs you don't know about. As many other posters have said, this seems to be as much an answer service as a search engine. I often find myself slogging through crap looking for a few gold nuggets even with fairly refined searches. If this can help sort the wheat from the chaff, I'll certainly welcome it.

  • I'm still unhappy with Google's conversion engine..

    I still can't get it to convert FMDs to Libraries of Congress.

  • Well, of course (Score:5, Informative)

    by truthsearch (249536) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:34AM (#27830617) Homepage Journal

    Alpha is meant to interpret natural language to figure out an answer. "Microsoft Apple" and "10 pounds kilograms" aren't natural language questions or common phrases. Those would be keyword searches, which is what you'd type into Google. Try "Compare Microsoft to Apple" or "How many kilograms are in 10 pounds" and you'd be using Alpha more appropriately.

    Each system is a tool. If you don't use the tool as described you won't get the results you're looking for.

    • by El_Muerte_TDS (592157) <{elmuerte} {at} {drunksnipers.com}> on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:48AM (#27830835) Homepage

      Each system is a tool.

      So is the average user.

    • by nasor (690345)
      I'm always annoyed by these stories talking about search engine returns where the author doesn't make even the most rudimentary effort to differentiate results. Why exactly would you type "microsoft apple" into a search engine, anyway? If you want stock prices, type "microsoft apple stock prices." If you want product reviews, type "microsoft and apple reviews," etc. And if you want to know how to convert pounds to kilograms, type "convert pounds to kilograms." It's like these authors get upset when the sear
      • Re:Well, of course (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Ichoran (106539) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:40AM (#27831685)

        Even worse, "10 pounds kilograms" is not nonsense. It is the standard way (except for the s on "pounds") to mean that you have some funny unit that is mass squared. Alpha gets it right, Google gets it wrong.

        Alpha does not tell you when you don't understand your own question, though, I guess. ("You have asked a question that only makes sense if you know basic physics. Are you sure you know basic physics? (Y/N)")

        • Even worse, "10 pounds kilograms" is not nonsense. It is the standard way (except for the s on "pounds") to mean that you have some funny unit that is mass squared.

          Pounds are a unit of force, not mass.

  • by Culture20 (968837) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:36AM (#27830643)
    I've never heard of Wolfram Alpha, so I googled it. Then I thought: If this new search engine becomes popular, will I still use google as a verb? I'd hate to wolfram stuff.
  • by Jugalator (259273) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:37AM (#27830655) Journal

    Stupid "face off" story.

    WA doesn't compete with Google.

    WA works with structured data sets and natural language queries to come up with replies, Google searches the web. WA won't do shit with a query like "digital camera reviews", but Google will. Google won't do shit if asked to calculate answers based on statistics, WA will.

    • So "What's the best camera for about $200" will work in Wolfram Alpha?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702)
        No, becasue that is based upon personal opinion. Someone may want a high zoom, some a better CCD, some multi-point auto-focusing.

        It will, however, give you an answer to "How many more people died in World War 1 than World War 2?" as that is based on fact.

        N.B. I don't care how many died in either war; It's an example of a question with a definite answer.
      • by Lord Ender (156273) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:34AM (#27831573) Homepage

        You need to stick to factual, well-defined questions; such as, "what is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?"

        • by g2devi (898503)

          > what is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

          Well that depends on how fast you swallow? ;-)

          More seriously, English is an ambiguous language. For instance, what does, "The clown threw a ball" mean? Is he having a party or playing games?
          It doesn't get better, even when adding words since "The clown threw a ball for charity" implies a fund raising party while "The clown threw a ball, for charity and hit the target" implies a dunking machine and "The clown threw a ball, for charity and hit the tar

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mea37 (1201159)

      Ok, they take different approaches, work in different ways, and each perform well in areas where the other does not. That doesn't mean they don't compete with one another.

      An airplane and a train have very little in common WRT how they work. A train can't get you frmo St. Louis to London. Taking a plane from Munich to Vienna is lunacy. Yet, planes and trains do compete with one another.

      • And it's over the moderate things that they compete as will google and wolfram however both should survive as they have the best in their niche markets.
    • Well almost true about Google. Try typing "10 megabytes in kilobytes" into a Google search. Probably not as effective as WA, but still a start.

  • Competition = good (Score:2, Insightful)

    by DomNF15 (1529309)
    Some argued that Wolfram is not exactly like Google, but regardless, I think competition in this space and elsewhere is a good thing. I know a lot of people like Google, I am one of them. But, to quote a relevant cliche, "absolute power corrupts absolutely". There has to be something or someone keeping profit driven enterprises honest, whether we're talking about search engines or operating systems...
  • Isn't this like comparing vi to MS Word? They're similar tools that can be used for similar tasks but really they're for very different purposes.
    • Car analogy time...

      It's more like comparing a ford pinto to a shoebox... you can put shoes in either one, but that's about the extent of it.

      From what I've read Alpha simply isn't a search engine - it's an expert system that answers queries via it's built-in (Mathematica based) rules and built-in hand "curated" data. I'd guess Alpha may link to some live internet feeds for things like exchange rates, but don't expect it top have access to much (if any) data that hasn't been sucked into Wolfram HQ and hand-sc

  • by Chrisq (894406) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:40AM (#27830717)
    Does Wolfram do any better than google when you type "hot free porn videos". Will you be able to type "teenage pussy" without being bothered by some old deary who wants to tell you about the longevity of her pet cat?
    • by D-Cypell (446534)

      Will you be able to type "teenage pussy" without being bothered by some old deary who wants to tell you about the longevity of her pet cat?

      I think this problem will more likely be solved by economic recovery, since SEO consultants are now forced to accept payment in the form of Werther's originals.

  • Missing the point? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by iamflimflam1 (1369141) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:48AM (#27830831) Homepage
    Surely the whole point of how WA works is to use natural language for the queries.

    Typing in "Cancer New York" could mean anything.

    If you gave that question to a human they'd have no idea what your were looking for.

    Why didn't he try asking the question he was trying to ask which was "What are the rates of cancer in new york?" or even just "Cancer rate in new york"

    All his other searches are equally stupid.

    • All his other searches are equally stupid.

      Even so, I was still impressed by some of the info turned up by WA, particularly the "Sydney New York" info and all the comparisons (GM/Ford, Asprin/Tylenol, etc). So his queries may have been unsuited for WA, but (assuming WA does what it is supposed to and handles natural language decently), this article at least sets a lower bound for what we can expect of it, and I found it quite impressive.

  • by Trevin (570491) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:51AM (#27830881) Homepage

    Reminds me of when I was in France, and still having trouble understanding the spoken French language. I was talking to a guy who asked me, in translation, "Brothers, sisters, one, two, three?" It took me a while to figure out he wanted to know how many siblings I had. Dumbing down the question like that didn't help me understand him any better, it made it worse. Using correct French grammar and simply slowing it down would have been much more helpful.

    I imagine Wolfram Alpha is like that.

    • by D-Cypell (446534) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:29AM (#27831487)

      I was talking to a guy who asked me, in translation, "Brothers, sisters, one, two, three?" It took me a while to figure out he wanted to know how many siblings I had.

      Surely the possible semantic meanings for those set of words is fairly limited?! Either he was asking you how many siblings you had, or he was attempting to start a jazz band, spontaneously.

  • by AtomicJake (795218) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:52AM (#27830903)

    Is Wolfram Alpha especially good in doing side to side comparisons (ex. from the article: "Microsoft Apple", "Stanford Harvard", "Utah Florida", "Utah Florida population")? Or why did the article test both engines with those queries?

    I would have rather expected, complete questions that are nevertheless hard to answer (unless you know a source), such as:

    1) "How many bull terriers are in the UK?"
    Google: link to Bullterriers on Wikipedia and some dog clubs in the UK.
    Wolfram: ???

    2) "How many blind people live in the US?"
    Google: first link to WikiAnsers (about 1 million, but without any references). Next links seem to be more serious, but difficult to get a real answer to that question (it depends on how you interprete "blind").
    Wolfram: ???

    3) "What is the color of a strawberry?"
    Google: This confuses me, apparently it has many colors...
    Wolfram: ???

    4) Apparently we need to use a comparison question: "strawberry blackberry"
    Google: I am getting hungry when I am following all those recipe links ...

     

  • (due up tomorrow [today.com])

    Some might say that Mathematica, the source of my fortune, and A New Kind Of Science: A Brief History Of My Stupendous Intellect were ambitious projects. But in recent years I've been hard at work on a still more ambitious project: Wolfram Alpha.

    Fifty years ago, people assumed that computers would quickly be able to handle all kinds of question. It didnâ(TM)t work out that way. But a few years ago, I realized that I was finally in a position to do it myself. As I'd always expected I'd have to, of course.

    I had the crucial ingredients: Mathematica and A New Kind Of Science. And my truly massive intellect. With these, I had a language to compute anything and a paradigm for complexity from simple rules. And my spectacular brain, which is much more spectacular than anyone else's, as proven by me being rich as well as smart. Which is smarter: to be a professor, or to have all the professors pay you tribute? I think my net worth makes the answer clear.

    But what about all the actual knowledge that we as humans have accumulated? I realized we needed to make all data computable as knowledge. Of course, natural language is incredibly difficult for computers. So we added the secret ingredient: my jaw-droppingly spectacular brain, undoubtedly the largest on Earth.

    I'm happy to say that with a mixture of clever algorithms and heuristics, linguistic discovery and curation, and some casual Nobel-worthy theoretical breakthroughs in my spare moments, we've made it work. Itâ(TM)s going to be a website with one simple input field that gives direct access to my superlative brain, in its planet-sized glory.

    Our pre-launch testers have been at work as well, and I'm dealing with all manner of queries in spare thought cycles while I jetset around the world, wowing the pitiful minds of gorgeous international supermodels before impregnating them with my superior genetic material. Let's just have a look at the query stream: "tits" "goatse" "mary whitehouse naked" "4chan" "tubgirl" "2girls1cup" "ITS OVER 9000 LOL" "desu desu desu desu"
    ERROR ERROR ERROR
    ####(^^(856*##&##
    NO CARRIER

    • If you read his claim in a "New Kind of Physics" that cellular automata would completely change and improve physics. The volume was an exhaustive exploration of all possible rules for the basic 8-neighbor, rectangular planar automata. Some interesting, but not revolutionary results.
      • Uh, excuse me, inventing the universe!

        And I would debate that 8-neighbor cellular automata, even with fully understood rules, mean ANYTHING AT ALL, aside from a tedious exploration of a vaguely interesting rule of logic. "A new kind of science" might be right - a new kind of science that is irrelevant by all previous measures and tells you nothing useful about the physical nature of the universe.

        Brett

        • I've never really studied the subject, but just have read what of the researchers Lee Smolin has said about it. Space, time, matter, energy, and force may be ultimately discete (atomic, local, quantized) at an extremely small scale. Smolin writes interesting pop science and philosophy books too.
    • I always said porn was a no-brainer.
  • by Lord Ender (156273)

    In my AI class, "expert systems" were mentioned. There was an example of a system for diagnosing blood-borne pathogens. Basically, they programmed some computer to ask every question of the patient that a doctor would ask, and programmed the doctors' decision-making process into the app. It was exactly as accurate as the doctors were. This was in the seventies.

    The book said that expert systems were largely abandoned, however, because the software was less efficient--it asked males if they were pregnant, for

  • by chill (34294) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:01AM (#27831055) Journal

    How about a test involving actual English-language questions and not just keywords? You know, like all those old tests from school that said "please use complete sentences". There is a reason languages have things like prepositions, adjectives and other parts of speech. They actually help put your communication into context.

    Nobody knows what the hell you mean with "Cancer New York" because there is no context. How about "cancer statistics for new york" or "cancer treatment in new york"?

  • by sakonofie (979872) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:06AM (#27831129)
    For the Americans in the audience, 1 £ kg = 3.33 $ lb.


    I recommend not saying this aloud for it sounds very silly.
  • explicit phrasing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:08AM (#27831153) Homepage Journal

    Alpha rather unhelpfully assumes you want to multiply 10 pounds by 1 kilogram

    Actually, while I agree that is unhelpful, I also don't like the other assumption. Maybe I'm already growing old, but I don't mind if people actually say what they mean instead of speaking or writing in some kind of shortcut-verbs-are-too-expensive-so-I-leave-them-out abbreviated style and leave it to the listener/reader to decypher whatever it could possibly be they mean.

    So if you want 10 pounds in kilograms, what exactly is the trouble with actually writing those three (counting the space) additional characters?

    • Re:explicit phrasing (Score:4, Informative)

      by lxs (131946) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:20AM (#27831341)

      "So if you want 10 pounds in kilograms, what exactly is the trouble with actually writing those three (counting the space) additional characters?"

      Pavlovian conditioning.
      Search engines have for the past decade consistently ignored grammar and thrown out those small additional words, often with a stern admonishment to the user that half their query is being ignored.

    • A good UI would give an answer assuming the most common uses of ambiguous terms, and also give links saying "did you mean..." with all the other possible meanings of those terms.

  • Expectations (Score:2, Insightful)

    by maxwell demon (590494)

    Somehow I have different expectations than the author about what some search terms should provide:

    SEARCH TERM: Microsoft Apple

    WA gives a comparison of stock prices. From TFA I conclude that's also what the author expected. I wouldn't expect that. If I were looking for stock prices, I'd add "stock" to the search term. With "Microsoft Apple" I'd expect to get some relations between Microsoft and Apple (where they compete, what the main differences are, maybe a comparison of market shares).

    SEARCH TERM: 10 poun

  • Direct answers (Score:4, Interesting)

    by lymond01 (314120) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @11:26AM (#27831443)

    I expect something from Wolfram like the answer Google gives to this question:

    How old is Demi Moore?

    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=how+old+is+demi+moore&btnG=Search [google.com]

    At the top, you'll see text that says:

    Demi Moore -- Age: 46 years (born November 11, 1962)
    According to: (some source) [more sources]

    This is the proper way of answering a question like that. I don't want just the answer. I want to know where the answer came from.

    How many french died at the Battle of Agincourt?

    I expect a number from Wolfram Alpha, as well as a cited source. There could also be, like Google, the option to choose other sources.

    Eventually, this will all boil down to me driving in my car and saying, "Computer. Tell me: At what speed did Marty McFly need to drive to travel in time?"

  • "the result you'd expect"
    I'd expect a kilo for 10 pounds.

  • The results you receive querying any database will be as good as the input data. We are doing web page searches here correct? So if I just search "microsoft apple" those two words will appear billions if not trillions of times I'm sure. Is the web engine supposed to figure out intent from that? Give me a break. The page returns that Google is giving out are probably related to user behavior after a similar search and Alpha hasn't had enough time to build up that kind of data. The second one was stupid

  • Just based on TFA, it looks like Wolfram could be a fun search tool, if you're looking for facts and trivia. Seems like most of the searches turned up facts as opposed to Google, which returns links to pages.

    At the very least it might help in the "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader" part..

  • by nysus (162232) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:14PM (#27832319)

    Type this into google:

    Who is Jamie Lee Curtis' mother?

    Look closely at the first entry.

    • by el_flynn (1279)

      How about this one:

      Who is Pamela Anderson's mother?

      Some results:

      * Her mother Carol is a waitress
      * Pamela Anderson's mother wishes she was gay
      * Pamela Anderson's mother doesn't mind the Playboy pictures
      * Pamela Anderson's mother was so distraught about her daughter's wedding to rocker TOMMY LEE - she starved herself
      * Pamela Anderson's controlling mother is driving her crazy

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by purpledinoz (573045)
      Wow. Mrs. Kin is really a perv...
  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:28PM (#27832577) Homepage

    Most search systems do well if you can find the "magic word", the word or phrase which nearly uniquely describes what you're looking for. When you're searching for something which is described with common words, not terms of art, search engines usually don't do well. That's where to test Alpha, which supposedly has some "understanding" of its data.

    Here's an example of something I was doing today. I'm sketching out a design for a special-purpose DC-DC converter, something I haven't done before. I'm looking at a data sheet for a transformer, and at the rules for describing a transformer to LTSpice, a circuit simulator. LTspice wants a value K, the "coupling coefficient". The data sheet for the transformer has various numbers about the transformer, but not the coupling coefficient. How do I calculate the coupling coefficient?

    It turns out that the magic words for answering this question are "leakage inductance". Once you know that, you can find the Wikipedia entry that gives the necessary conversion formulas, and calculate the coupling coefficient. Until you find the magic words, though, it's tough. If you just go looking for "coupling coefficient" in Google, you're directed to theory papers. "Leakage inductance" is the number that appears in data sheets, because it's directly measurable.

    If Alpha can answer questions like "How do I compute the coupling coefficient for a transformer given the data sheet parameters?", it will be a nice capability.

    Yet, if you put in the entire phrase "How do I compute the coupling coefficient for a transformer given the data sheet parameters?" as a query to Google, you get as a first result a paper on how to model a transformer in LTSpice given data sheet information [cliftonlaboratories.com], which is exactly the right result to return. The answer is in that paper, and it's a good paper. Google does better at this than one might expect.

  • If you go to http://www.wolframalpha.com/
    it says coming May 2009. Er, I call that uninformative. Its May 2009 now. So when in May 2009... very inexact.

  • by harlows_monkeys (106428) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @04:45PM (#27837321) Homepage

    Google for "definition of mathematical proof" (without the quotes). The #1 hit usually is a link to the site of a well-known usenet kook who thinks he's proved FLT, disproved the Rieman Hypothesis, proved P=NP, can factor numbers in constant time, and has found a contradiction in Galois theory (this is just a partial list of his accomplishments), and is being suppressed by a world wide conspiracy of mathematicians--whom he is soon going to take down by destroying the University system so they all lose tenure. He also suspects that many top mathematicians may be aliens (from space), trying to destroy humanity.

    I don't have access to WolframAlpha, so have no idea what it would answer for "definition of mathematical proof", but I'd bet a large amount that it will not give a link to the aforementioned kook site.

    Google is a web search engine. It's job, which it does very well, is to index the web, and to find sites that appear relevant to a query, and then rank those based on how important they appear to be judged by what other sites reference them. The users of the web find crackpots more interesting than mathematicians, so kook math sites rank high.

    WolframAlpha is not a web search engine. It's job is to work with a large database of data that was collected and vetted by people for accuracy, and use that database to derive answers to questions.

    You can't meaningfully compare Google and WolframAlpha, because what they are meant to do is so different.

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