Wolfram Alpha: Blind to The Blogosphere

Since its debut a little over a week ago, I've been playing with Wolfram|Alpha. For those of you who don't know, it is an ambitious project by Stephen Wolfram (of Mathematica fame).

Wolfram Alpha (I know, technically, it's Wolfram|Alpha, but I don't want to type in that vertical bar all the time) is not a search engine, in a sense that it returns webpages as query results like Google does - rather, it is a "computational knowledge engine." You and I may simply call it an "answer engine," ask it a question and it'll come up with the (usually right on the money) answer.

What is butter? Wolfie knows - it'll display the average nutrition facts. Ask it to convert $1 to British pounds, or the distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Who starred in Casablanca? How is the weather in New York on May 26, 1987? How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Impressive, eh?

Now, Stephen is a very smart guy. Indeed, he wrote his first paper on particle physics at the tender age of 16, received a PhD from Caltech at 20, and became a professor there at 21. And to be fair, Wolfram Alpha is very young and heavily geared towards computations. Furthermore, the scope of what the engine "knows" in terms of content is limited to areas covered by trusted sources like reference libraries fed to it by its programmers.

But currently, there's one large gaping hole missing from Wolfram Alpha: it is blind to blogs. Sure it knows about the meaning of life, and it has its own blog, but it knows nothing - nada, zip, zilch - about the blogosphere.

Technorati? Maybe you meant technology instead. According to Wolfie, Gizmodo = komodo (the island, the language, or the movie - but strangely not the animal); Techcrunch = Techuchulco (a city in Mexico). Boing Boing = Boina (a volcano).

Ask it about Neatorama and Wolfie thinks that you mean Panorama (which I learned is actually a city in Greece, that, at the time of my query, has a warm 73°F weather with relative humidity of 50%, wind of 7 mph and few clouds).

At least this blog fared better than Lifehacker, which got "lumpsucker" instead.

Heck, ask what is a blog?, and it'll think you're asking about logarithms:

Still, overall, I think Wolfram Alpha is a brilliant first step towards (dare I say it) an artificial intelligence - a universal computer a la Isaac Asimov's fantastic short story The Last Question. And I'm sure the hardworking people over at Wolfram Research will rectify this oversight soon.

But whatever you do, don't get Wolfie mad. This is what you'll get.

If you don't stop, it'll probably shove you out the pod bay door ...


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I am amazed at how W/A is continuously compared to existing engines, such as Google or Wikipedia. Mainly because it does not intend to be a clone or even a "search engine killer" but also because such comments do not take into account that if Google and Wikipedia didn't already have massive databases, containing all sorts of erroneous information (yes, that's particularly targeted at Wikipedia), they wouldn't fare any better than W/A, which is in the toddler stages of its development.

And no, it wasn't intended for bloggers. And no, it's not going to predict football scores. And no, it's not intended for ego-searching either. You do realize W/A stems from the same people who do Mathematica, right? And you most certainly wouldn't purchase Mathematica to solve your first grade math assignments, would you?
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