Wolfram Alpha: The Answer Calculator
Among all the “other” search engines, my favorite is Wolfram Alpha. It’s not really a search engine in the traditional sense; it’s an “answer calculator.” Rarely in the news, Wolfram Alpha nonetheless exerts influence through licensing deals that make its technology available through Google Search, Bing, Siri, and other well-known brands. Here’s a look at what Wolfram Alpha has become since I last wrote about it in 2015...
Wolfram Alpha Redux
The Wolfram Alpha home page is full of categories that contain examples of “Wolfie’s” capabilities. This was a good idea because most people aren’t sure how to use a “computational knowledge engine.” A dive into the Sports and Games category makes Wolfie’s capabilities a bit clearer.
If you enter “New England Patriots” into Google Search, you'll get over 46 million results. Each result is a web page that contains the search query, or part of it. The page itself may be exactly what you’re seeking or it may be wildly off-base. In contrast, “New England Patriots” entered in Wolfie starts a process that assembles a single page of facts about the team. If the particular fact(s) you’re seeking are not there, you can refine the search with additional terms. You can also sort the columns of information when indicated.
Wofie can produce answers to complex questions like “last pro baseball game with more than 9 stolen bases.” This query involves a sport, date, and statistic as its variables. (The result is “San Diego Padres at Florida Marlins, Thursday, May 18, 2006.”) But it's not all about sports. One example that got a chuckle from me was "How many baseballs fit in a Boeing 747?" I'll let you find the answer to that one.
Obviously, Wolfie can be indispensible to people who must come up with this sort of trivia in real time. But there are dozens of specialized searches, calculations, and conversions that it can do for you. Many categories of examples are available to help you understand the functions and uses of Wolfram Alpha. Try exploring some of these and constructing your own queries:
- Words & Linguistics (dictionary lookups, word puzzles, anagrams, emoticons),
- Units and Measures (conversions, calculations, and comparisons)
- People and History (genealogy, names, occupations, political leaders, historical events)
- Culture and Media (movies, tv programs, songs, fictional characters, mythology)
- Money and Finance (stocks, mutual funds, futures, mortgages, currency)
- Astronomy (planets, moons, comets, stars, pulsars, galaxies, nebulae)
- Chemistry, Physics, Music, Health, Geography, Food, Weather and many more.
Options and Operations
While Google has a limited number of operators to refine search queries, such as +, -, and quotes, Wolfie has a larger set of operators that help you specify what kind of results you want. For instance, “word” specifies that you want to know the uses of the following word, e. g., “word march” yields “march in protest” among other uses, and nothing about the month of March. Operators such as define, synonym, antonym, and even “Morse code for…” are available.
For educators, Wolfram Alpha Pro ($4.75/month) has a time-saving problem-generation function that creates math problems for students of various grade levels to solve. For students, Wolfram Alpha Pro ($4.00/month) has a “step by step solutions” function that will solve those problems and “show your work.” That seems to be playing both sides of the street. (Kind of like using Wikipedia to write your term paper.)
Wolfie is never going to be the dominant search engine on the web. But it’s specialized capabilities are worth bookmarking, and they will enrich more popular services such as Google Search, Siri, Alexa, and so on.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Try asking Wolfie a question, and post a comment below with something interesting that you learned!
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 19 Sep 2017
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Wolfram Alpha: The Answer Calculator (Posted: 19 Sep 2017)
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