News & Opinion

A Wolf or a Ram? What is Wolfram Alpha?

by on March 4, 2013

Want a new way to search the web? WolframAlpha.com is a perfect place to go to find calculated answers from a variety of data.  In fact, they state that it’s not a search engine, but a “computational knowledge engine” that helps people find what they need (WolframAlpha, 2013).  It uses “built-in knowledge curated by human experts to compute on the fly a specific answer and analysis for every query” and the results are really interesting (WolframAlpha, 2013).  That is what makes WolframAlpha different from Google, which indexes and displays web pages.

Let’s get started by going to WolframAlpha.  First, notice all the images scattered about.  Click on one of them and it will show you results about the topic.  For example, the image for the Eiffel Tower brings you to a page that has calculated the height of the monument.  The data given is in feet, but the answer is also converted into different unit measurements.

One of my favorite queries to do with WolframAlpha is to search for first names.  For this example, try searching your name by following these steps:
1. Go to WolframAlpha.com
2.  Type in your name (e.g. Joanna)
3.  Click the equal sign
4.  Review your results

Using the example of a name search, the first box on the page tells what assumptions are being made to complete the calculation. We are also presented with assumptions that they are making, “Assuming “joanna” is a given name | Use as a city or a species specification instead” above the result (WolframAlpha, 2013).  The results for this calculation are: U.S. births, history of U.S. births (with a chart), population estimates, age distribution, alternate versions of the name, and famous people with the name.  Information on the page also includes definition of terms, related questions, and source citation.  That’s a lot of content to get from a simple search.  Now, you may be wondering, where do they get the information? Each page provides a citation from reliable sources.

WolframAlpha offers a plethora of information on: mathematics, weather, geography, people, history, music, physics, astronomy, food and nutrition, and health.  It’s amazing what can be done with calculus here!

Free personal accounts can also be created.  With this account one can create a favorites list of queries, access search history, set preferences and get personal Facebook analytics.  Paid accounts are available with WolframAlpha Pro and there are a lot more features including: image and spreadsheet input, interactivity with results, and downloadable results.  They even have mobile and PC apps, widgets and tool bars.

Next time you want calculated information, check out WolframAlpha.com!

Bibliography

“What is WolframAlpha?” WolframAlpha.com. Accessed February 4, 2013. http://www.wolframalpha.com/tour/what-is-wolframalpha.html.

“Joanna.” WolframAlpha.com. Accessed February 4, 2013. http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=joanna.

 


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