Wolfram Alpha has been around for a few weeks now, having debuted to a squawking chorus of voices. The initial reports from Mashable and Lifehacker sounded intriguing and promising but the talk on podcasts like TWiT and the virtual water cooler that is Twitter was more confused than relevatory. The single most coherent and reasoned explanation of / musings on was on Buildings and Food (a great site anyway).
The first question most people had was, what is Wolfram Alpha? The answer is that it is a knowledge computation engine, whatever that means. From the website:
“Wolfram|Alpha aims to bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people—spanning all professions and education levels. Our goal is to accept completely free-form input, and to serve as a knowledge engine that generates powerful results and presents them with maximum clarity.”
Taking the play-with-it-until-it-breaks approach exemplified by Gina Trappiani’s original Lifehacker post, here are the things I learned via WA.
I am 33 years, 10 months, and 8 days old today.
I live 5663 miles from my mother’s house, which itself, is 243.4 miles from where I went to university.
My name, Joel, has some interesting data attached to it: there are currently 222,373 people sharing my name. It was most popular as a birth name during 1979 / 1980.
By comparing my first and middle names, we learn that my middle name is much more popular as a given name than is my first name.
Arizona became a state 97 years ago. Its highest point is Humphrey’s Peak at 3850 meters, while its lowest is the Colorado River at just 21 meters.
The average lifespan of American men vs. Japanese women is 75.92 years to 85.59 years, meaning that my wife is going to outlive me by ten years. But we already knew that.
There are also a number of things I couldn’t find. For example….
A search for the average rate of oxygen consumption used by SCUBA Divers at one atmosphere resulted in this:
Searching for the average lifespan of labrador retrievers brought back no results at all, only a suggestion to search on the word “dogs.”
Searching for “ the average number of e-mail addresses of teenagers” likewise brought back no meaningful results.
In the meantime, WA has released it’s first update, which has a few changes to the system, namely updating the linguistic structures recognized so that more queries will be returned. (Again, Mashable has the full list.)