MAIN WIKI PAGE
This chapter was created by: Jules McGee, Victoria Hickox, Gabrielle Chumbley, Andrea Aikman, and Tyler Danner.
What is Wolfram|Alpha?
The long-term goal of Wolfram|Alpha is to "make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone" by gathering all possible data and making it "possible to compute whatever can be computed about everything" 2. Wolfram|Alpha is an answer engine rather than a search engine. Stephen Wolfram himself calls it a “computational knowledge engine”. This means that it does not simply return documents like Google, nor is it a giant database like Wikipedia. Rather, it actually computes the answers to a wide variety of questions. It also goes beyond simply answering questions and helps users explore knowledge, data, and the relationships between things. 3
(Founder of Wolfram Alpha)
Who uses Wolfram|Alpha?
About 320,000 people visit Wolfram|Alpha's website each day. There are also around 1.6 million daily page views. 4 "Wolfram|Alpha aims to bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people - spanning all professions and education levels." 5
Table of Contents
I.1 Development of Wolfram|Alpha
Wolfram|Alpha was launched on May 18, 2009 by Stephen Wolfram. Stephen Wolfram is the founder and CEO of Wolfram Research that resides in Champaign, Illinois 6, 7. Mathematica was a very important piece to the development of Wolfram|Alpha because of three components:
- the general symbolic language giving Wolfram|Alpha the way in which the information is presented,
- the amount of "built-in algorithms" that makes it possible to "implement the methods and models of so many fields, and
- to be able to deliver the "technical achievements of Wolfram|Alpha in a robust way" 8.
Along with Mathematica, NKS was also important to the development of Wolfram|Alpha 9. The algorithms of NKS as well as the paradigm of it "was crucial in imagining that Wolfram|Alpha might be possible" 10. Wolfram|Alpha took 20 years of Research and Development before it was created in May of 2009 11. What "ultimately made Wolfram|Alpha possible was a single commitment to the goal of making all the world's systematic knowledge computable." 12
I.2 How does Wolfram|Alpha work?
"As of now, Wolfram|Alpha contains over 10 trillion pieces of data, more than 50,000 types of algorithms and models, and linguistic capabilities for upwards of 100 domains" 13. Wolfram Research found a way to manipulate data in users' questions and display results in new, creative ways 14. Wolfram|Alpha runs on "supercomputer-class clusters" and makes "extensive use of the latest generation of web and parallel computing technologies, including webMathematica and gridMathematica 15. Wolfram|Alpha is "systematically covering the content areas of reference libraries and handbooks" 16. Wolfram|Alpha accepts "completely free-form input", and serves "as a knowledge engine that generates powerful results and prints them with maximum clarity." 17
A video to show how Wolfram|Alpha works:
Wolfram Alpha is Your On-Call Genius 18
II. How Wolfram|Alpha Relates to other Applications
II.1 How does Wolfram|Alpha compare to the competitors?
WolframAlpha has been said to sit somewhere in between Wikipedia and Google as a search engine, yet it may seem to some people that the two are quite similar and there is a reason for this. The co-founder of Google was an intern many years ago with the creator of Wolfram|Alpha.
Uses dedicated experts to evaluate, judge and add data
Explores websites looking for and gathering data that has been requested
A human-driven effort that uses crowd-sourced information which is edited by others
Offers a large amount of data
Provides lists of documents or webpages that may contain the answer to the search engine prompt
Offers detailed textual descriptions
Organizes data well into visually appealing charts and graphs
Does not inform the viewer if the source is reliable or not
Is not able to monitor or protect who contributes information to the webpage
The program titled Mathematica shows step-by-step ways of solving mathematical problems of all kinds
Focuses on narrative topics
It makes judgments about whether data is correct or not, and will only display correct data
More of a computational knowledge engine, much like a dictionary or encyclopedia
Usage requires an up-to-date web browser
II.2 What are some unique uses of the Search Engine
Wolfram|Alpha has many applications that are unique to its program that other search engines do not have. Wolfram|Alpha has the ability to provide the user with very accurate historical data by attaching a date to any query. For example, users are able to check the weather conditions for certain dates of the past, compare the currency values of today with the values from a previous time period, and even compare the current economic situation with market crashes that have occurred throughout history. As math is Wolfram|Alpha's strong suit, getting probability statistics is very easy and very accessible.Wolfram|Alpha makes it simple to get the housing market value at the current time as well as during the past. It can give information about mortgage lending interest rates an other valuable information pertaining to house buying of land investment.
It can inform users of the probability of getting heads forty times in a row in a coin toss, while it can also provide valuable poker statistics. Nutritional information is another subject area that is supplied. Users have the ability to look-up nutritional information such as how much fat something contains, how many calories, protein etc. They can even type in the meal they are about to eat and receive all the nutritional information about the food that is about to go into their mouths.
Wolfram|Alpha does some amazing things that other search engines simply overlook. 24.
III. Real World Application of Wolfram|Alpha
Elementary Lesson Plan
Adding and Subtracting
Students will compute addition and subtraction problems containing double-digit numbers then check their answers using Wolfram|Alpha.
Students will gain basic knowledge about maps to locate different places in the world, read a map correctly, and estimate distances between different locations on a map.
Students will be able to write structured paragraphs and sentences, formulate the flow of a creative writing piece, generate topics to write about, and center the story around a central idea.
Students will be able to rsearch the weather in our countries.
Students will be able to research the taxonomic classes of certain flowers using Wolfram|Alpha, and therefore be able to identify a flower scientifically.
Students will be able to locate the fifty states on a map. They will also be able to match each state with its capital.
Secondary Lesson Plans
Students will do calculations on paper and check them using Wolfram|Alpha for correctness as well as learning more about that particular derivative of the function or the integration of the function.
Students will be able to state the laws of exponents and simplify expressions with exponents.
Students will learn to interpret the colors used on maps and what they represent and will be able to identify demographic characteristics about countries around the world by interpreting various types of maps as well as interpreting a histogram.
Post Secondary Lesson Plan
Students will be able to plan observations by date, time, location, and target, to identify astronomical objects, and research the properties of astronomical objects.
Students will learn the basic element symbols and the atomic mass of the elements in the periodic table.
Students will understand the basic purpose and construction of the Richter Scale and be able to use the Ricther Scale to calculate different magnitudes of different earthquakes in order to compare the different quakes using both a chart and a graph.
III.4 How Wolfram|Alpha can be used in a Business/Industry Setting
Wolfram Alpha can be used in a variety of ways in a business setting. Most modern businesses have clients in different states or, in many cases, countries. If a worker needs to find what the time is in his client’s location, he can simply type the names of the two cities into Wofram|Alpha, and the answer engine will provide the time in both cities as well as the distance between cities, flight time, and population of the each city.
If a company creates a website for its business, and the web designer needs help with html encoding of a character or color, he or she can type in the color or character name and Wolfram|Alpha will provide the html encoding that is needed, as well as any information pertaining to what the web designer is searching for, including similar colors as well as examples of the color.
Also, when designing websites developers have to remember that not everyone has high-speed internet and, therefore, the site speed has to be manageable for users. A developer can easily input the page size with the connection speed into Wolfram|Alpha and receive information about the amount of time it will take to download the page. 25
IV. Demonstration of Educational Value
Wolfram|Alpha can be used to automatically generate problem sets for students, and then research those sets. A recent article 26 from the education website Chronicle.com argues that Wolfram|Alpha may have a less desired effect: encouraging cheating and laziness in students. This is because Wolfram|Alpha not only solves complex math problems, it "also can spell out the steps leading to those solutions."
Stephen Wolfram told Chronicle.com that computer-algebra systems like Wolfram|Alpha actually improve education because they allow students to explore complex problems on their own and intuitively determine how functions work, rather than just learn rote processes. Wolfram claimed that "it's better to let [students] stand on that platform and go further."
Either way, it is clear that Wolfram|Alpha and similar computational software will force the education system to adapt and change. Students now have a new (and certainly easier to use, as it's on the Web) platform on which to compute things. There is no point in the education system pretending it does not exist. If you are interested in tracking the progress of Wolfram|Alpha in educational settings, there is a wiki devoted to 'Teaching Undergraduate Math with Wolfram|Alpha.' 27
IV.1 Wolfram|Alpha For Educators
Wolfram|Alpha can be valuable to educators in many ways:
- Gather information on a general concept
- Research details on specific topics
- Use it in lesson planning
- Create visual aids for presentations or handouts, including images and graphs
- Show steps to math problems
- Here is the link for the Wolfram|Alpha for Educators website: WolframAlpha for Educators
IV.2 Other uses for Wolfram|Alpha
- To assign homework based on information in Wolfram|Alpha
- As a reference in computer labs and libraries
- For research papers and group projects
V. How is Wolfram|Alpha used Internationally?
Users outside of the United States can generate answers to queries just like users within the United States. Some of the specific areas international users may be more interested include time zones, holidays, languages, weather, geography, money, measures, travel, organizations, and people. 29
- When searching time zones, information about specific time zones can be found as well as the current time in a specific city.
- When searching holidays, information and dates of U.S. and World Holidays can be found.
- When searching languages, information about a language can be found. Also, users can compare multiple languages and find languages spoken in a country.
- When searching weather, current weather for a specific location as well as weather forecasts can be found. Also, users can compare weather for several locations.
Wolfram|Alpha currently does not handle languages other than English; however, this feature is planned for the future. 30
VI. Wolfram|Alpha in the Future
"Wolfram|Alpha, as it exists today, is just the beginning." 31 The Wolfram|Alpha Team have both long-term and short-term plans to expand the site by "broadening and deepening (its) data, (its) computation, (its) linguistics, (its) presentation, and more." 32 The Team has ambitious goals and high hopes for the future of the project. "Wolfram|Alpha is being introduced first in the form of the Wolfram|Alpha website. But Wolfram|Alpha is really a technology and a platform that can be used and presented in many different ways. Among short-term plans are developer APIs, professional and corporate versions, custom versions for internal data, connections with other forms of content, and deployment on emerging mobile and other platforms." 33
For example, professional and corporate versions are coming soon. Capabilities under development include:
- Downloading in many formats (e.g. spreadsheets, XML, 3D models, TeX)
- Uploading of data for analysis (e.g. spreadsheets, text, images, webpages)
- Alternate display formats
- Dynamic interactivity capabilities
- Persistent individual or corporate preferences
- Ability to store entity definitions
- Session history
- Access to subscription data sources (e.g. real-time trading data, bibliographic data)
- And more...
Wolfram|Alpha will never be completely finished, according to the development Team. "There'll always be knowledge to be added and updated, and new capabilities to be introduced. [For example] The Wolfram Mathematica (on which Wolfram|Alpha is built) has been in continual development since 1988."
1. Logo found at: http://gumballtech.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/logo-300x274.jpg