Sunday, May 16, 2010

Wolfram Alpha - Knowledge Engine

Stephen Wolfram is an interesting dude. He's the founder of Wolfram Research and the inventor of the highly regarded Mathematica software platform. His social / presentation skills leave alot to be desiered - he occasionally comes across with a bombastic condescending tone - but not intentionally in my opinion - more like the product of a nerdy adolescence where a majority of his energies went into intellectual explorations rather than the "hormonal explorations" normal adolescents are guilty of... damn selfish genes.




Overall, Mr. Wolfram has been an intellectual heavyweight in physics, computation, mathematics and the study of complexity. I've been playing around with his recently released WolframAlpha knowledge engine - pretty cool technology. Here are a couple of off the cuff searches I performed with their results.




China GDP / US GDP - This cool little query understands to perform a mathematical division between the GDPs of both countries. Notice the exponential nature of China's GDP growth curve relative to the US after 2000 !!




Apple Revenue / Microsoft Revenue - Notice the inflection point around the middle of 2003 - coincendentally (or not) iTunes launched during this time.

United States / Russia - This query was understood by the engine to provide me ratios "of interest" between the US and Russia.

Sounds simple, but any software engineer will tell you that you need a set of specifications to even begin to code a solution to the above queries - but the engine performed some of these effortlessly.


Now many queries I tried (some admittedly non-sensical) were not understood by WolframAlpha and were substituted with an assumption that many times closely resembled the base query.

For what its worth, in my opinion this is an impressive engine - having experience in AI and large scale software system design - Not sure if there's a better implementation of dynamic (query-based) knowledge delivery on a web platform outside of Google & Bing especially when you consider the computational nature of the engine.

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