Saturday, May 23, 2009

Wolfram Alpha - Making all systematic knowledge computable

You may have noticed something new in the right-hand column, just below the News Map. It is a live link to Wolfram Alpha. The hype for Wolfram Alpha says:

"Today's WolframAlpha is the first step in an ambitious, long-term project to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable by anyone ..."

Wolfram Alpha is not just another search engine like Google or the new Microsoft "Kumo" soon to be released. It is not Wikipedia or Google Knol. It is not Excel or any other spreadsheet. It combines aspects of all these useful tools into a grand extension of Wolfram's Mathematica. (Wolfram Alpha was released for free public use last week and I put the link on this Blog then,. It has taken a few days for it to stabilize and become reliable, so that is why I delayed this posting.)

See the Visual Gallery of Examples for how Wolfram Alpha works with Mathematics, Dates&Times, Statistics, Places&Geography, Physics, SocionomicData, Chemistry, Weather, ... and much much more!

So far I have used it a bit. Try the Wolfram Alpha window just below the News Map in the right-hand column of this Blog. You can type in a simple equation: 45.7 + 32 - 7.8 x 16 = and get the Result: -47.1. Or, try (distance earth to sun)/(distance earth to moon) = and get Result: 413.9. Or b c d e f# a = and get the musical notes and play the sound. Or, marion county fl income per capita and get Result: $17848 along with other data. Or ibm microsoft intel and get their current stock prices and other data including a comparative graph.

So far, I am a bit underwhelmed but I have confidence this will become a major Internet tool for all of us. Please share your experiences here by Commenting. advTHANKSance!

Ira Glickstein

PS: As a result of Wolfram Alpha's release, my interest in Stephen Wolfram has been piqued. I studied quite a bit of his Cellular Automata (CA) work that I used as part of my PhD studies. I also knew he made his money with a program called Mathematica. His book A New Kind of Science, which seems to be trying to prove that the Universe is a gigantic CA, is now available free online and I am up to chapter 8. I am sympathetic to the basic idea because I am a Panthiest and believe (along with Spinoza and Einstein) that the Universe is absolutely deterministic and (perhaps not along with them) that is it both finite and discrete in space, time, matter, and energy.


JohnS said...

I have also looked at Wolfram Alpha - Making all systematic knowledge computable and have it on my favorite list although I am somewhat lost on how I can use it. Perhaps you can help. I haven’t played with it much so it may be my ignorance. It did do the math I asked of it, it also found some facts that I asked for. However, most of the questions I seek to solve are in narrative form which I would find hard to state mathematically. For example,
1. I read in an email today it is recommended I, living in central Florida, should purchase and store material to cover my windows in case of a hurricane. What is my risk if I don’t? Is it worth the cost and difficulty of storing the material in a courtyard villa? I couldn’t physically install them if needed; should I pre arrange for someone to do so and set aside the necessary funds?
2. On a different subject, I just initiated a blog on freedom of religion, in preparing it, how could I have easily (I emphasise easily) extracted pertinent information from the writings of our founders. The blog would have been better if I had done so but the task seemed too great for me to attempt.

These are the type of questions I am most often confronted with and I can’t see how the program will help.

Ira Glickstein said...

I don't think Wolfram Alpha would help you John on those two queries.

The options are too broad: 1) Do nothing and accept the damage in case of a hurricane, 2) Buy storm protection materials and hire someone to install them in case a hurricane is predicted, 3) Have permanent storm shutters installed and deploy them youself, ... You'd have to check the probability and strength of a hurricane in central Florida, the cost of the protection, the coverage of insurance, the architectural rules of The Villages on permanant shutters, etc.

I've chosen (1) because hurricanes generally reduce by two levels as they travel over land to where we live. When a storm hit The Villages a couple years ago it totally missed our house but some houses seven miles away were destroyed and storm shutters would not have helped.

On your freedom of religion Topic, Google would be the best source of the words and opinions of the Founders. I use Google a lot and have developed a sense of how to state a query. For example, I use quote marks to keep words together so Google does not search them separately. (Example "the villages", "first amendment", ...)

Wolfram Alpha would not help for your examples, but Google would be very helpful.

Ira Glickstein

JohnS said...

I know Ira, I just chose these two examples to illustrate the types of questions most lay people are confronted with and who do not have the time, energy or knowledge to use the many research tools available today. While it is true that almost any question can be answered with a diligent search of the internet, most of us rely on intuition and/or what we hear via the airwaves. Regarding the question of hurricane preparedness, the easy answer is “we each must make our own decisions” yet, we receive most of our information from retailers anxious to sell, the media hyping the same story year after year and safety agencies that rightly should provide a cautious view. The culmination of all of this information results, in my view, in confusion. There is too much “crying wolf”; we are unable to reason logically. I have no quarrel with safety organizations recommending on the side of caution, that is their job, however a more reasonable approach might be to ask how many people live in central Florida vs. how many are killed in central Florida each year because of hurricanes. The figure has to be infinitely small. We might also ask how many homes are seriously damaged? Again, the figure will be small. Yet each year we encounter the same emphasis (over emphasis?) on the danger of hurricanes. Why does anyone dare to live in Florida?