Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter


Forgot your password?
The Internet Technology

Wolfram Alpha Launches Tonight, On Camera 218

future.nerd tips news that Wolfram Alpha is set to be launched tonight at 8PM EST (00:00 GMT), and the entire process will be broadcast live, via webcast. Steven Wolfram said to PCPro, "We've been rather surprised that we haven't been able to find even a single publicly available record of the commissioning of any large website at all. So we thought we would document our own experience. We can't guarantee that everything will go smoothly. We fully expect to encounter unanticipated situations along the way. We hope that it'll be interesting for people to join us as we work through these in real time." In a related blog post, he explains how Wolfram Alpha interacts with Mathematica.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Wolfram Alpha Launches Tonight, On Camera

Comments Filter:
  • by credd144az ( 1078167 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @07:15PM (#27973921)
    Get ready to sell all your google stock. /sarcasm
    • Re:Google Killer (Score:4, Informative)

      by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday May 15, 2009 @07:23PM (#27974015) Homepage Journal

      He specifically said it's not a google killer.

      • Re:Google Killer (Score:5, Insightful)

        by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @07:38PM (#27974149)

        He specifically said it's not a google killer.

        Well, people have said its not trying to compete with Google, even though its designed to do something better that people currently use Google for. They are either simply hoping Alpha won't to be compared to Google, perhaps for fear the comparison will come out negative, or they know what "compete" means.

        • by arth1 ( 260657 )

          And, of course, it can answer important questions that Google can't, like "which sites have the most free pr0n?" and "what are the factors of 2^142154695-1"

          • by spud603 ( 832173 )
            Hmm, for some reason the query [] "prime factors of 2^142154695-1" is timing out...
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          Or maybe they simply don't want to be compared to Google and their goal was simply not to create a Google killer.

          From the few test queries I just did it looks to me like a app that one can use next to google. Instead of just blindly go to google to search for something you now can make a choice.
          What kind of information am I looking for? Which engine do I expect to handle my question the best?

          As far as I can tell now it's a cross-over between wikipedia and google at best.

          • by vux984 ( 928602 )

            As far as I can tell now it's a cross-over between wikipedia and google at best

            Yep. Google is already a 2ndary source for a lot of search types for me.

            There are TONS of topics where wikipedia will either have the answer directly or reference it directly. If I want to know when the Vic20 was released... wikipedia. If I want to know the lifecyle of a silverfish... wikipedia... if I want to know how to write code to read the TIFF format, or find a library to do it for me... wikipedia.

            I still use google, and ex

  • Such confidence. (Score:2, Informative)

    Some how the "Things will definitely go wrong" angle seems to be the precise reason why no one else has done such an unveiling to the public. I think they need to get some new PR people, because whoever they have right now is not doing a good job at making this sound like a stable, reliable system.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by NightRain ( 144349 )
      They're doing a fantastic job of personalising it though. If you're interested in "geek culture" cred to build up an initial userbase to iron out the kinks, with professional usage coming at a later time, this seems like a good way to do it...
    • Have you ever release a large piece of software to a large group of users before? How about a small piece of software to a small group of users?

      Something always goes wrong and there is usually a good reason for it. It should be a neat learning experience for all involved

      • I know that something always goes wrong. But you don't announce it to your users. That's just bad PR work. Under no circumstances do you tell your customers "Things are going to break, we guarantee it. Come watch it happen." during the launch event for your product. You don't bring up bad things during a time like that. You focus on the positive aspects and work out the kinks with as little fanfare as possible.
  • by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @07:30PM (#27974079)

    But what I want to know is how Wolfram Alpha interacts with elementary cellular automata!

  • Step by Step (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eddy_crim ( 216272 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @07:32PM (#27974101) Homepage

    1. create complex new search engine type technology
    2. create webcast of launch
    3. announce on slashdot
    4. fail!

    I wonder why people dont create records of sites going live... perhaps its cos the poop always collides with the fan!

    • by Omestes ( 471991 )

      I don't know, watching the into video has me somewhat intrigued and excited. It seems like a nice tool for finding specific bits of information that would be a page-digging pain.

  • "Murphy's Laws". They will find practical cases of them in a way or another.
  • by Sanity ( 1431 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @07:35PM (#27974131) Homepage Journal
    You can be pretty sure that this wasn't the idea of the engineers who built the website. The worst possible launch from an engineering standpoint is a high-profile one where your traffic spikes immediately on going live. The likely outcome is that your site goes down and all your PR effort results in nothing other than ridicule.

    When I've been involved in launching websites I've always had to talk down the PR people from some kind of high-profile launch, to something as gradual as possible.

  • Wolfram Alpha is set to be launched tonight at 8PM EST (00:00 GMT), and the entire process will be broadcast live, via webcast.

    The process of putting a website that is available currently only in invitation-only test into general public release isn't exactly something worth watching. Presumably, a scripts been set up to do it. And someone is going to sit at a terminal and run a shell command to execute the script. Or maybe click on an icon. And then the website will be live.

    The interesting part (if there i

  • I believe if this new computational engine comes online tonight the first thing it's going to define is a much better understanding of the term 'slashdotted'.
  • Alpha? (Score:5, Funny)

    by MrEricSir ( 398214 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @07:43PM (#27974197) Homepage

    Shouldn't it become Wolfram Beta after tonight?

  • 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 didn'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 be the professor all the other professors pay tribute to? 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. It'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"

  • by tb()ne ( 625102 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @07:57PM (#27974351)

    ...from all the commenters on Wolfram's blog []. It is actually rather amusing to read through the long list of overwhelmingly positive comments.

  • I got to watch a live webcast come to a screeching halt, live and in person.

  • by 7times9 ( 955358 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @08:07PM (#27974453)
    Solve: Server Slashdotting... Equals... Error: Causing own slashdotting!##'$£"$12
  • wolfram alpha tells me that the answer to life, the universe, and everything is not "42" but "Launching May 2009..."

  • DED (Score:2, Funny)

    by captinkid ( 1224428 )
    DED dead, website will not even refresh, even after pressing refresh a dozen times on several computers. :) Just doing my part.
  • by artor3 ( 1344997 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @08:25PM (#27974643)

    Pit it against 20Q []. Come up with a random thing, and have 20Q ask questions while WA gives answers, and see if the two together can figure out what I was thinking of. My guess is that the questions will be too bizarre for WA to handle ("is electricity an animal, vegetable, or mineral?"), but it should be interesting.

  • Colossus (Score:3, Funny)

    by BorgCopyeditor ( 590345 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @08:36PM (#27974755)

    15 minutes later, Alpha reports:

    "Warning. There is another system."

  • by Stan Vassilev ( 939229 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @08:37PM (#27974759)
    Wolfram Alpha encounters 'snag,' launch could be delayed []

    "We have several supercomputer-class compute clusters. One of our tests was to use one cluster to simulate traffic and run it against the other cluster. And when we did that last night, we found that the through-put we got degraded horribly when we increased the amount of traffic that we were pushing from one cluster to the other."

    Remaining questions:

    1. Why didn't they test first, then announce launch date?
    2. Why are they building excitement towards a specific release day, hour and minute (which will surely cause availability issues even if they launched), instead of releasing it gradually with gmail-style invitation system?

    That said, the project seems definitely worthwhile, I hope the internet community cuts them some slack so they can fix this in peace. Hopefully we see the project online soon.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by d474 ( 695126 )

      That said, the project seems definitely worthwhile, I hope the internet community cuts them some slack so they can fix this in peace.

      I agree and from what I've seen of WolframAlpha so far, is it seems like an excellent "thinking sketch pad". You can brainstorm ideas quickly with it, performing quick calculations in seconds what might take you 5 or 10 minutes to search for, gather input, convert units, get the right equation, and then finally perform the calculation. With this thing you can just type in yo

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        And that's what I find very interesting: WolframAlpha gets to watch the calculations be performed by bright (and not so bright) people all over the world and see what ideas people are tinkering with. They could flag certain equations on the cutting edge and so on...

        I'm not working on the cutting edge of anything, but what little bit I know about science and math leads me to think that progress is very rarely about coming up with new equations. Even if it was, and I was working anywhere near cutting edge science, I certainly wouldn't be typing my work into W/A so that Wolfram can run off and patent and/or scoop my discovery.

    • Currently (a not very smoothly working) video stream with the WolframAlpha team is live at: []

      The site itself is not up yet, there's a word they may need until Monday to "build up computing capacity".
    • 1. Why didn't they test first, then announce launch date?

      Because they're soooo smart, unlike the rest of us, they don't need to test their software.

      And if you don't like what it does, it's because you're stupid.

      I'm obviously stupid.

  • now that Wolfram has claimed to have invented the Internet (everything that counts, anyway)...

  • So yeah... 6:10 Pacific (9:10Eastern)

    and still "launching May 2009"

    i believe this is the website equivalent of that injury cone cat spilling his food all over the place


  • Input page (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sephr ( 1356341 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @09:21PM (#27975093)
    The main page's search input area is still unusable for me and if it is for you, try [] instead. The "i" GET parameter is your search. For example: []
  • I asked it "what do you get if you multiply six by nine?"

    It replied, 54.

    Guess it's not the most powerful computer of all time.

    • by ais523 ( 1172701 )
      I asked it "multiply 6 by 9 in base 13". It told me that it interpreted my question as a request to convert Times(6, 9) to base 13, but didn't actually tell me what the answer was (there was no "Result" section). When I downloaded the PDF of the answer, there was a "Result": "CalculateBaseForm(54Times, 13)". I hope this is a temporary glitch; if Wolfram Alpha is having trouble using Mathematica, what hope do the rest of us have?
  • Here's how to bring up the real search page:
  • by Gordo_1 ( 256312 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @10:51PM (#27975739)

    You just have to type in [] to get to a usable input screen.

    Unfortunately, it seems as though Steven Wolfram's screencast that's been up for the past few days used rather cherry-picked examples, as the underlying datasets do not seem to be as comprehensive as one might have been led to believe. Beyond the fairly basic things you might find in the CIA fact book or other source of basic data, it just doesn't yet have the breadth of underlying data that would make it an indispensable tool. For example, after playing around with W|A finance queries, I was left completely unimpressed with the paltry datasets and feel that any market/stock questions I have would be better served by hitting up They have some basic data about professional sports teams, but NHL hockey is nowhere to found, and you can't find anything in the way of current player stats for any sport, let alone historical data. Birthdays of notable sports figures are there though...

    Gotta admit, it's quite an ambitious undertaking, I just think they're somewhere between 3 and 5 orders of magnitude away from having enough data and detail to make it the kind of thing I would consider using regularly. Stay tuned, might be interesting in a year... or five.

    • I'd say it will need more than data to become useable:

      "what is the number such that it's square is two"

      Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input.

      • by ais523 ( 1172701 )
        It works if you enter it as "solve x squared equals two for x".
    • Interesting results. After searching the radius of the earth ("What is the radius of the earth?") on both Google and Alpha I gain different results. 6 378.1 kilometers for Google, and 6367.5 kilometers on Alpha..........They are obviously on different parts of the planet :). I must say that I would have preferred it if Alpha had asked me where I was. That would have been intelligent.

    • by jez9999 ( 618189 )

      I'm curious as to why all the text is images, and you have top click on it to get copyable text. What are they catering for, browsers that can't render text??

    • It totally *nailed* my question.

      Its answer was "WolframAlpha isn't sure what to do with your input".

      The question I'd asked was, "Are you sure what to do with my input?"

    • I thought it was fairly clear that it was oriented toward math, science, and technology. I'm not surprised that there are better sources for sports trivia and financial data.

  • one of the things it suggested was to put in your hometown. I can't get it to recognize that my hometown of Napoleon, Indiana exists []. It keeps trying to compare Napoleon, Ohio to the state of Indiana. I know it isn't a google killer or anything but google does recognize my hometown exists [].
  • I asked it "what is the 999999999999999999th root of 12?" and now it no longer responds to queries at all.

  • The 'experts only' gatekeeper on the information entered into the system results in a relatively barren knowledge base. It doesn't parse natural language all that well (for example: "population of Austin Texas verse population of Dallas Texas produces no result). It's slow.

    Not terribly useful outside of a few specific domains. I don't foresee myself using it often, maybe not at all.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by dzfoo ( 772245 )

      Maybe if you spelled "versus" correctly. I'm not sure it has much poetic inclinations.


  • > "We've been rather surprised that we haven't been able to find even a single publicly available record of the commissioning of any large website at all." Perhaps that's because very few new websites (if any) are "large" on the day they're launched.
  • Fail... What good is a site that crashes in the first few minutes..

  • Come on Wolfram, the computer in Space 1999 on Moon Base Alpha did way better. I just tried some computations and your wolfram alpha didn't even detect the space aliens flying through our star system this evening. Sheesh, missed first contact.

  • Alpha is confused by my hometown of Kingston upon Thames. One of its suggestions is to enter a town, so I did. It got confused, presumably because it was trying to read some other meaning into "upon". It then suggested searching for Kingston, or for Kingston Thames. The former found plenty of Kingstons, but not mine (and it's not a small place). The latter told me how far it was from Kington, Jamaica to Thames, New Zealand.

    Epic fail!

  • I'm sorry to say that I'm finding it pretty much useless.

Happiness is twin floppies.