BreakingModern — Everyone has heard of Google, Yahoo and Bing. These search engines are what most people use to get information on the Internet. There’s, however, another type of search aid that can give you even more and often better information. Developed by Wolfram Research, it’s called Wolfram Alpha.
Rather than being a search engine that returns links to websites for information, Wolfram Alpha is a computational knowledge engine that returns actual answers. Wolfram Alpha gives results by doing dynamic computations based on a vast collection of built-in data, algorithms and methodology.
You can access the free online version of Wolfram Alpha here, but the Wolfram Alpha app is probably more useful, especially when you’re on the go. It’s available for Android on Google Play, Apple iOS, Nook, and Amazon Fire and it is well worth the $2.99 price tag.
Wolfram Alpha excels at answering natural language, fact-based questions. Rather than giving you links to information, it actually gives you the answer as well as additional information. Wolfram Alpha grabs this data from a knowledge base of curated, structured data. Its knowledge base is so extensive that it is used for certain queries in Bing and Siri.
What Wolfram Alpha gives you is unique results. When I searched for Harry Potter’s birthday, it gave me July 31, 1980. It then went on to list his place of birth, family relations, Harry Potter books and a ton of other information including his family relations, his creator, how old he would be today and other events all spawning from that date.
I entered “mortgage $100,000” into the search box and Wolfram Alpha gave me the monthly payments, total interest paid and a payment table showing yearly principal and interest for the life of the loan. Since I hadn’t given it complete information, it made assumptions, like assuming a fixed rate for 30 years at the current rate of interest. These assumptions are clearly marked at the top of the results and, of course, they can be easily changed.
Wolfram Alpha often responds with information in easy-to-read charts, graphs and lists. For instance, I entered “Eb scale” and Wolfram Alpha presented me with the musical notation as you would see it on sheet music. It showed the scale on a keyboard with a play button to actually play the scale. It also gave frequency and pitch information.
Wolfram Alpha excels at math, science, technology, units and measuring, dates and times, weather and geography. It will also answer questions on culture, linguistics, sports, music, games, people, health and transportation. If you want to know something, I’d bet Wolfram Alpha not only has the answer but increases your overall knowledge of the subject you’re searching.
Wolfram Alpha, a creation of Stephen Wolfram, came online in 2009 and every year it gets better and better. Its highly ambitious goal: to accumulate all the knowledge in the world. No simple feat. You can share in that knowledge and have fun doing it. Give the Wolfram Alpha app a try — I’m sure you will find it quite amazing.
For BMod, I’m Sandy Berger.
All Screenshots: Sandy Berger
Header/Feature Image: “Wide-angle view of the ALMA correlator” by European Southern Observatory via Flickr Creative Commons