28 April 2009

Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram Alpha is about to hit the streets (or at any rate, a computer screen near you). The Wolfram Alpha query screenCreated by Stephen Wolfram and his company, Wolfram Research, it will look superficially like a search engine but is fundamentally different in nature.

Like a search engine it comes with a text entry box where you can type in a query, like a search engine it goes away and thinks and then spits out results on a webpage. But what goes on behind the scenes and the nature of the returned webpage couldn't be more different.


Wolfram Alpha depends on two earlier developments from the same stable. Mathematica is software that enables mathematical manipulations to be entered, processed, and displayed on a computer, while NKS (which stands for 'A New Kind of Science') is an alternative to the normal tools used by scientists to model the way the universe works.

Using both of these innovative tools, Wolfram Alpha takes a free text query, decides what the user wants to know, looks up the relevant information in its enormous collection, processes the information to create an answer to the original query, and builds a webpage on the fly to display the response. The webpage may include text, images, graphs and charts etc. The end result is a tailored report that might have been written by an expert. Indeed, in many ways Wolfram Alpha is an expert!

Steven Wolfram is an extraordinary person. He is, frankly, a genius - one of a handful of truly great minds in our own time. He looks at things in new ways and comes up with fresh insights, testing them, proving them, and then publishing them. Here, in his own words, is how he's spent his life so far.

Major periods in my work have been:

• 1974-1980: particle physics and cosmology

• 1979-1981: developing SMP computer algebra system

• 1981-1986: cellular automata etc.

• 1986-1991: intensive Mathematica development

• 1991-2001: writing the book, 'A New Kind of Science'

(Wolfram Research, Inc. was founded in 1987; Mathematica 1.0 was released June 23, 1988; the company and successive versions of Mathematica continue to be major parts of my life.)


You can see right away that he is not a man in a hurry. He is not afraid to spend five years or more on a single project. Learn more about his background and work from Wikipedia.

Not everyone agrees with Wolfram's work on NKS, a range of reactions are included in the Wikipedia article on the book.

In the end, 'wait and see' may be the best advice for both Wolfram Alpha and NKS. As far as Alpha is concerned, we'll all get a chance to try it and draw our own conclusions when it's released. Hopefully that will be next month (May 2009).

Meanwhile you can watch video of Stephen Wolfram demonstrating the new technology at Harvard on 28th April.

For news about the new tool, take a look at the Wolfram Alpha Blog which will be updated regularly with further announcements and background information.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Copyright

Creative Commons Licence

© 2002-2017, Chris J Jefferies

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. A link to the relevant article on this site is sufficient attribution. If you print the material please include the URL. Thanks! Click through photos for larger versions. Images from Wikimedia Commons will then display the original copyright information.
Real Time Web Analytics