This morning hailed the launch of Wolfram Alpha, sorry “Wolfram|Alpha”. A new type of search that looks to provide you with concrete answers, rather than referring you to another site which might have the answer.
Wolfram|Alpha is the brainchild of British-born Stephen Wolfram. Despite having a name that makes him sound uncannily like a Bond villain, Dr Wolfram’s aim for the Wolfram|Alpha project is to, “collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything”. Well it’s good to be ambitious.
So does it work? Ish, would be my answer. Can it tell you how big the US is in square miles? Yes, down to three decimal places (3.179 million square miles or about 1.037 x 10 to the power of 14 feet squared). Can it tell you the population of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso? Yes – 1086505.
But can it tell you how big Wales is? Or how much the moon weighs? Or, as John Humphrey’s asked on this morning’s Today program – which population is shrinking faster, the population of Sparrow or the population of Haddock in the north sea? No, no it can’t.
Wolfram’s aim is to create a compendium of knowledge, not with the intention of rivalling Google to provide answers, think of Wolfram as an encyclopaedia with a search bar. But is it better than Google?
We asked both: what were the results of the Scottish devolution referendum? Google’s top hit gave us the answer, in figures and as percentage and by unitary authority and how that compared against the 1979 ballot.
Wolfram gave us…”try Scottish.” Google 1 – Wolfram 0.
Dinner party dorks will have a field day with this, and I’m sure it’s got plenty of wholesome practical applications but for now Wolfram seems too US-centric and fiddly for it to be a really useful internet tool.