Wolfram Alpha creator Stephen Wolfram has lifted the lid on the new Wolfram Language for computer programming in a new video. We don’t really understand exactly what it is or how it works… but watch this video and you’ll agree with me that it is mindblowing.
Wolfram Alpha is a clever toy that some people have claimed could rival Google for certain queries. It’s a “computational knowledge engine” rather than a search engine – so relies on structured data rather than search queries. In other words, if you ask it when is sunset?, it won’t just look for webpages containing this information, but will return the data to you as data that could be sorted onto a spreadsheet if you wish.
Whilst this may not seem immediately useful, it’s the sort of thing that helps make Apple’s Siri so powerful. Siri is powered by Wolfram, and uses the knowledge engine to figure out what you’re asking, and retrieve the most relevant data for you. As you might expect – Wolfram is also great at doing some intensely difficult mathematics too.
Wolfram Alpha has been around for a few years now – but only now has the full potential of the Wolfram Language been revealed.
Essentially, to my layperson eyes it appears to be a web connected programming language, that can do some powerful stuff with ease. Rather than have the code sit in isolation on the server it is running on, it is instead connected to Wolfram’s great big datasets and computational power. This means that you can do what would normally be complicated tasks – like generate graphs, tables and image manipulation in just a few lines of code.
Perhaps even more usefully is that Wolfram curate a huge number of datasets – everything from countries and flags to exoplanets – so plugging this data into your code becomes a piece of cake.
Apparently the language is based on two key principles: making sure that all of the different functions can plug into each other seamlessly – and to make the code do most of the work, so lots can be achieved with as little effort as possible. Heck, it seems Wolfram can even take plain language and turn it into code.
Most interestingly, the Wolfram Language doesn’t require coders to write exclusively in Wolfram, but instead it offers an astonishingly easy way to upload Wolfram code to the Wolfram cloud and create APIs so that other apps can access the data in a variety of formats. So expect to see a huge number of apps and websites all using data generated by Wolfram in the near future – just like Siri does. You might not notice – but apps could be about to get a whole lot more clever.
Seriously – watch the video and your mind will be blown.
By James O'Malley | February 26th, 2014