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Test Driving the Wolfram Alpha 124

Posted by kdawson
from the know-what-i-know-if-you-know-what-i-mean dept.
SilverMind writes in to note a blog entry at Byte Size Biology describing in detail a few hours spent with Wolfram Alpha (which we have discussed before). "After playing around with Wolfram Alpha for a few hours, I can safely say the following: it's different, it's incomplete, it's idiosyncratic, and it's funky cool. And no, it will not dethrone Google, nor does it aim to do so."
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Test Driving the Wolfram Alpha

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 10, 2009 @10:48PM (#27901745)

    How the hell am I supposed to "Wolfram Alpha" something? No one will ever say that.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 10, 2009 @10:58PM (#27901831)

      A suitable portmanteau may emerge. Wolfa? Walpha? Wralph?

    • by Lemmy Caution (8378) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @11:31PM (#27902001) Homepage

      "Ralph."

      E.g., "can you tell me the names of the original members of the Bay City Rollers?" "Ralph it for yourself."

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by SoVeryTired (967875)

        Surely "Wolf" would be better. Wou could even spell it with a "ph" to emphasise the "alpha" part.

        Instead of a googlewhack, you'd get a Lone Wolf. Basically, everything you did on the internet would sound about eight times cooler.

        • by mrops (927562)

          I was thinking WoPho

          but then figured MoPho is more catchy

          Q: Hey whats the capital of Uganda?
          A: Go MoPho.

    • by Ilgaz (86384) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @11:38PM (#27902051) Homepage

      Can you say "Observables for the Analysis of Event Shapes in e+ e- Annihilation and Other Processes" without taking a breath? Mr. Wolfram can :)

      Seriously, that is not a general search engine or even engine as we understand today. It is something else. It is the click happy IT media which compares it to Google and I am sure people at Wolfram research either laughs or cries because of it.

      • by joss (1346) on Monday May 11, 2009 @05:01AM (#27903623) Homepage

        Ah ffs, what the hell do you think a 'general search engine' is ? Google's algorithms are seriously complicated too. I'll pretty much guarantee you Google use, or at very least have experimented with an algorithm which does very very close approximation to 'analysis of event shapes in e+ and e- annihilation' except it was implemented to run in scalable way on finite hardware. Also, quite aside from all that, why the hell wouldn't one compare it to google when people would be using it for the exact same purpose.

        Without *actual* AI, their goal is completely impossible and their results will include millions of weird artifacts [or 'bugs' as far as users are concerned], so I predict that even in their chosen sub-domain, people will soon get frustrated and confused and return to Google.

        • by Bakkster (1529253) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .nam.retskkaB.> on Monday May 11, 2009 @08:34AM (#27904889)

          Also, quite aside from all that, why the hell wouldn't one compare it to google when people would be using it for the exact same purpose.

          People might use Wikipedia for the same purpose as Google, that doesn't mean we should compare them. The people who expect every Google search to work in Alpha are wrong. Those who expect genetic, scientific, or mathematical comparisons to work in Google as it is now are equally wrong. Hell, Alpha doesn't even search the internet, it has its own information database.

          How are the two comparable again?

          • People might use Wikipedia for the same purpose as Google, that doesn't mean we should compare them.

            Arguably, it does.

            It is often much more important what a product actually does compete with than what it is intended to compete with. Now, of course, in comparing them, you will may that, because of their different design goals, Wikipedia has some areas where it is much stronger than Google and Google has many areas where it is much stronger than Wikipedia. You may even find that Google and Wikipedia are for

          • by Patch86 (1465427)

            Why shouldn't you compare Wikipedia and Google? Your comparison might find that they are very different, but that's the point of a comparison. Making the comparison is especially relevant if people are using them for the same task. And they do function very similarly, from an end-user point of view- you type some keywords in a box and hit enter, and then some results come up with all sorts of information including facts, figures, definitions and links to external sites.

            You might as well be saying "You can't

    • Personally, my money's on "ram". Write your own porn joke.
    • Don't worry, google will buy it soon enough
      • by jc42 (318812)

        Don't worry, google will buy it soon enough

        That's indeed a danger, and made worse by the media's tendency to compare every little search project with google, even when there's little or no overlap in what they do.

        OTOH, I've been involved in a few of the thousand or more projects to build highly-specialized search tools that "understand" the data used for specialized purposes. So far, none of them has to my knowledge been approached by anyone from google. In a few cases, the opposite has happened, as the p

    • by siloko (1133863)

      How the hell am I supposed to "Wolfram Alpha" something? No one will ever say that.

      Well if someone told me ten years ago I would be using the world 'google' instead of 'search' for the web I would have laughed my socks off. Not something I do often incidentally.

    • by s7dhansh (1157823)
      but everyone will say "i wolfed google"? or at least will love to.
    • by Exitar (809068)

      "Woffa".

  • by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Sunday May 10, 2009 @10:50PM (#27901763) Homepage

    There is a video called A Sneak Preview of Wolfram|Alpha [youtube.com] on YouTube that seems to have been filmed at a talk Wolfram gave. After watching it I think I have a decent idea of what it's like to use, and just how very different it is from every other search out there. I can't wait to try it.

    And to see what happens when you search for "Rick Astley".

    I'd also like to see if it can convert things like 1 GB into Libraries of Congress. Google's unit conversion doesn't include the LOC, sadly.

    • by tromtone (1186091) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @11:46PM (#27902103)
      I have preview access and just tried it.

      Like other singers, it lists his full name, date of birth, place of birth, and a timeline of his life. There are no events on the timeline, and it extends all the way until 2010, so apparently he's at least got one more year to try to top Never Gonna Give You Up.

      By the way, here's [youtube.com] a screen capture video of me putting this search into Wolfram Alpha.

    • by Hurricane78 (562437) <.gro.todhsals. .ta. .deteled.> on Monday May 11, 2009 @12:06AM (#27902241)

      Use Qalculate!, and define your own units. :)

      Oh, and remember to define "B" as byte and "b" as bit, or you might end up with somethingsomething megabarns of memory. ^^

      • by schon (31600)

        megabarns of memory

        I'm reminded of the quote about the bandwidth of a station-wagon full of backup tapes hurtling down the highway..

        How many station-wagons are there in a megabarn?

        • Interestingly, a barn is a very small unit. One sq. ft. is 6.4516E24 barns. One m^2 is 1E28 barns.

          Must be very very tiny farms, with very very very tiny animals...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rve (4436)

      How are they going to sell advertisements on this? How is this going to get funded?

      Google makes money by selling search keywords and banners with random ads that their software thinks have something to do with the reason why you're viewing a page. I don't see this business model working for Wolfram; not unless a lot of people are interested in graphs and a statistical analysis on which TV set is the best value for money.

      I'm not a marketing guy, maybe someone who is can think of something, anything?

      The only

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        If there are eyes on the page you can sell ads. If they're searching for TVs (your example) show them ads for TV. Show them ads for nearby stores that have offers on TVs. Show them ads for sites that have information about which TV is better and why. Show them ads for DVD rentals that they'll want to use with their new TV.

        That's just the example you came up with... there is a lot of scope to advertising.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by rve (4436)

          If there are eyes on the page you can sell ads. If they're searching for TVs (your example) show them ads for TV. Show them ads for nearby stores that have offers on TVs. Show them ads for sites that have information about which TV is better and why. Show them ads for DVD rentals that they'll want to use with their new TV.

          That's just the example you came up with... there is a lot of scope to advertising.

          ...but all these things are based on data that a search engine like Google would have, and Wolfram, if I understand it correctly, would not.

      • The only thing I can think of is a subscription model, and I believe there is too much free stuff on the internet that I suppose is 'good enough' to leave room for subscription based content.

        The target of this seems to be people who want "professionally-verified" content, not "good enough" content, so I think that they are probably thinking of eventually going subscription-based (or perhaps pay-per-query).

        I am deliberately not saying that I expect this to be a successful business model, only that I think it

    • Does it convert into Malcolm's [wikia.com]?
      "A wavelength parcel of ten KH/Z operating in 4 Dimensions equals one Malcolm"
    • Ugh, YouTube? There is a much higher quality version available on the main site...
      http://www.wolframalpha.com/screencast/introducingwolframalpha.html [wolframalpha.com]

  • Trek (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    But does it do the Majel Barrett voice?

    On the other hand, that would make looking for porn far too awkward. Nvm.

  • AI exercise? (Score:5, Informative)

    by moon3 (1530265) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @11:30PM (#27901995)
    Understanding written sentences and answering them by using logical cognition is part of what successful AI has to achieve..

    Something that Wolfram might not directly telling you.
    • Call me a cynic, but your second sentence is hilarious when contrasted with your first sentence.
    • Understanding written sentences [...] Something that Wolfram might not directly telling you.

      You forgot to adding word "incorrect".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 10, 2009 @11:33PM (#27902011)

    I am really getting sick of it. People who has no clue about what they write, adds cheap titles like "Google Killer" to every innovation in search, "iPhone killer" to mobile app/os/device etc.

    It doesn't do any good to the service/device/software mentioned. It just guarantees the huge amount of people will be "free astroturfers" for Google/Apple etc. spreading jokes about the product no matter how good it is or how much potential it has.

    No, you can't "kill" Google by simply inventing something and I don't believe a scientist run company has such stupid ideas in mind.

    • ...because there will NEVER be an "iPhone killer."

      Wait! Keep reading, I'm far from an Apple fanboy...

      Ever since the iPhone came out, app stores and locked-down devices have been the norm. Competition among cell phone makers is a joke - they all have to do what the telcos want and while they can try to compete with each other, the telcos always win and the consumer always loses. There isn't much room for innovation.

      So they'll keep cranking out locked-down phones with whiz-bang features to lure consumers in b

  • finally (Score:5, Interesting)

    by suricatta (617778) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @11:37PM (#27902043)
    Maybe we can get the difinitive answer for the meaning of life? :)
  • by russotto (537200) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @11:39PM (#27902059) Journal
    Is it Wolfram Alpha V, or Wolfram Alpha VI? That's vitally important!
  • Not A Search Engine (Score:5, Informative)

    by RoFLKOPTr (1294290) on Sunday May 10, 2009 @11:46PM (#27902101)

    For those of you who aren't gonna RTFA, I would like to reiterate something that is stated in TFA, because it seems, from reading comments on previous articles about Wolfram|Alpha, that people think this is a search engine and is trying to compete with the likes of Google and whatnot. I also get this from a couple articles from various tech sites that I've read who search for... things... on W|A and compare the results to Google and claim that Google is superior. [slashdot.org]

    People, W|A is not a search engine in the conventional sense. It is more of a knowledgebase. It is a computational engine. Rather than finding websites that tell you about what you're trying to learn about, W|A gives you the information you're looking for on their site, pulled from a large 20-someodd-year-old database of verified scientific facts that began with Wolfram Mathematica. If the info you're looking for isn't directly present in the database, W|A will compute it for you if it has the necessary data dependencies. W|A is not the same as Google and is not trying to compete with Google, so to those of please stop trying to pass off side-by-side comparisons between W|A and Google as journalism. That's not to say, though, that Google won't try to buy them out or even start up their own academic knowledgebase to compete with Wolfram... and yes, that would be Google entering Wolfram's domain, not the other way around. [/rant]

    Anyways, I think W|A looks awesome and I will surely poke around when it launches on May 18 (I think... correct me if I'm wrong please).

    • by Hurricane78 (562437) <.gro.todhsals. .ta. .deteled.> on Monday May 11, 2009 @12:09AM (#27902267)

      For those of you who aren't gonna RTFA, I would like to...

      tl;dr. ;)

    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      To put it in one word : think about it as HAL, not as Google.
    • For those of you who aren't gonna RTFA, I would like to reiterate something that is stated in TFA, because it seems, from reading comments on previous articles about Wolfram|Alpha, that people think this is a search engine and is trying to compete with the likes of Google and whatnot.

      Since it is an engine for searching a custom database using natural language and presenting information that is "relevant" to the request given, exactly like any other search engine, and since its intended use is to answer ques

      • W|A is not trying to compete with Google. They are in their own business. And yes, technically they are a "search engine" if you want to use the literal definition, but I said "it is not a search engine in the conventional sense" which is completely true.

        There's no such thing as a verified scientific fact? So you're saying that the notion of birds having feathers is neither verified, scientific, nor factual? Are you dense?

        And once again, no they are not trying to compete with Google. Google is not a source

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by DragonWriter (970822)

          W|A is not trying to compete with Google.

          They are working to provide a way to do things which people currently attempt to do (in Wolfram's eyes, with less success than they would with W|A) using Google (among other tools). It is, therefore, in any reasonable use of the words "compete" and "trying", trying to compete with Google in some part of the space in which Google is currently used.

          And yes, technically they are a "search engine" if you want to use the literal definition, but I said "it is not a search

  • ...and you all are so completely falling for it.

    It's just like with games. It's still half a century or something, until it is available to the general public, but already we get stuffed up to the nose with blablabla (for lack of a better term) about it. ^^

    This alone is a reason for me to avoid it, and recommend you to do so too.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ailnlv (1291644)

      According to wikipedia, its supposed to go public on the 18th. That's a bit more than a week and a lot less than half a century.

      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        its supposed to go public on the 18th. That's a bit more than a week and a lot less than half a century.

        If I had access to Wolfram Alpha, I could tell you exactly how much it is. :\

    • Well I really like the idea and don't care whether this is marketing campaign or not.
      I don't understand why you want to avoid it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Hurricane78 (562437)

        Because I avoid companies that use crooked methods such as viral marketing -- which is nothing else than lying about who you are, to sneak under the radar of "this is advertisement" -- to get the news out. Why not do it in a normal fashion? Why not really let others test it, instead of paying an employee to act as if he were not affiliated, to trick us?

        Sorry, but this is morally unacceptable behavior. Something only crooks and criminals do. Plain and simple.

    • Methinks you dont know what a viral marketing campaign is. Announching a product before its release isn't viral. Besides, it's released on the 18th of May - that's hardly half a centuary.
      • Methinks you dont know what a viral marketing campaign is.

        A statement like that could break the Internet.

    • by jpop32 (596022)

      This alone is a reason for me to avoid it, and recommend you to do so too.

      Dude, you forgot to rant about Wolframs ego. C'mon, if you're going to completely ignore the actual merits of the product at hand, at least do it proprely.

  • What's the point? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by glwtta (532858) on Monday May 11, 2009 @12:11AM (#27902289) Homepage
    Am I the only one getting a little sick of all these "Oh look there's so much buzz around Wolfram Alpha! Really, you are all very excited about it!" previews/sneak-peeks/tidbits/etc?

    Until I can actual use it, I have exactly zero interest in this thing. Is there really any reason to propagate the marketing drivel?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by carlzum (832868)

      Until I can actual use it, I have exactly zero interest in this thing. Is there really any reason to propagate the marketing drivel?

      The article got me interested, but when I wanted to try it out I got this page [wolframalpha.com]. It says "Launching May 2009," so I'll reserve my judgment.

      It's not the calculations that make this interesting, it's the breadth of data available. Google is wildly popular because you can find information about nearly every obscure fact imaginable. If Wolfram can do the same with quantitative

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by SpinyNorman (33776)

      Well, at least this reviewer understands what Alpaha is and presents it clearly, unlike the other 2 (or is it more?) stories Slashdot has run on it where the article writers (and most of Slashot readership!) seem to think it's a search engine.

    • Yeah, exactly. Who the hell wants to know details about a product before its released?
  • And what we will have? A computational data engine working with the biggest search engine. I, for one, welcome our new cybernetic overlord, Skynet, err, Wolfram Omega-Google.
  • Alpha? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Znooptree (1371719) on Monday May 11, 2009 @01:09AM (#27902635) Homepage
    When Google get their hands on this, it will be Wolfram Beta forever.
  • "Its different, its incomplete, its idiosyncratic, and its funky cool."

    Gosh, it's like a list of words that a marketing company promises its client that it will use. God save me from 25-year-olds with marketing degrees.

  • True Knowledge (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Stuidge (1104439)
    This seems very similar to True Knowledge [trueknowledge.com], which has been in Beta for ages, and not as other people suggest, Google
  • Here's the big problem I see with Wolfram Alpha. I'm not very familiar with it, but from what it looks like, they are assimilating data over the internet and using it in their AI to answer users' questions.

    What is the benefit people that create that information to allow Wolfram Alpha to index it? It doesn't look like it will drive traffic or revenue to their sites. If anything it will take away.

    I have a feeling Wolfram Alpha crawlers will be blocked by many webmasters.

  • Update (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wjousts (1529427) on Monday May 11, 2009 @08:13AM (#27904697)
    BTW, there was an update to the previous Wolfram Alpha vs Google post here [technologyreview.com]. The author tried some of the searches suggested by Slashdot readers.
  • Wolfram Alpha must be compared to Wikipedia, not to Google. And to be honest, since it is in its first day, it must be compared to Wikipedia in its first days.
    • Wolfram Alpha must be compared to Wikipedia, not to Google. And to be honest, since it is in its first day, it must be compared to Wikipedia in its first days.

      "Must be"? Why? If I'm looking to choose a tool to use to answer a question (once Alpha is released), I may choose Google, I may choose Wikipedia, I may choose Alpha. What I am unlikely to even consider as an option is "Wikipedia in its first days".

      So I think (a) it is valid to compare it to Google as well as Wikipedia (and any other tool for answerin

  • Being able to compare the population of two places doesn't seem so amazing to me. Now, I can get the population of 2 states and compare them myself.

  • Andy Oram, an editor at O'Reilly, wrote this essay on Wolfram Alpha and how it fits (or doesn't fit) into the "tech-splicing" revolution:

    Results from Wolfram Alpha: All the Questions We Ever Wanted to Ask About Software as a Service [praxagora.com]

    (Disclaimer: Andy is my editor. But it's a good article; check it out.)

  • According to this [wolframalpha.com], Wolfram Alpha is set to launch May 18th.

    So we should finally be able to see what it does or doesn't do for ourselves!

  • Am I the only one who saw Wolfram, and thought WolfRan and Hart?
    AKA: Evil Inc.

    Am I the only Angel fan on here?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Check out http://wolframsbeta.com

    - gave me the answer to the atomic number of molybden
    - answered me the question of how old Kurt Cobain would be today

    =works!

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