The Future Of Human Knowledge Is A Joss Whedon Villain?

Illustration for article titled The Future Of Human Knowledge Is A Joss Whedon Villain?

A new search engine promises to gather all "computational knowledge" and make you an instant expert on any topic. So why does it have the ominous Joss-Whedon-villain name Wolfram Alpha?


Wolfram Alpha makes grandiose claims, but also says it's a long-term project and will eventually have much, much greater capabilities:

Wolfram|Alpha's long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything. Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.

Wolfram|Alpha aims to bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people-spanning all professions and education levels. Our goal is to accept completely free-form input, and to serve as a knowledge engine that generates powerful results and presents them with maximum clarity.

Wolfram|Alpha is an ambitious, long-term intellectual endeavor that we intend will deliver increasing capabilities over the years and decades to come. With a world-class team and participation from top outside experts in countless fields, our goal is to create something that will stand as a major milestone of 21st century intellectual achievement.


That it should be possible to build Wolfram|Alpha as it exists today in the first decade of the 21st century was far from obvious. And yet there is much more to come.

As of now, Wolfram|Alpha contains 10+ trillion of pieces of data, 50,000+ types of algorithms and models, and linguistic capabilities for 1000+ domains. Built with Mathematica-which is itself the result of more than 20 years of development at Wolfram Research-Wolfram|Alpha's core code base now exceeds 5 million lines of symbolic Mathematica code. Running on supercomputer-class compute clusters, Wolfram|Alpha makes extensive use of the latest generation of web and parallel computing technologies, including webMathematica and gridMathematica.

Wolfram|Alpha's knowledge base and capabilities already span a great many domains, and its underlying framework has the power and flexibility to support ready extension to essentially any domain that is based on systematic knowledge.

Nicola Griffith, author of Ammonite and Slow River, tried out Wolfram Alpha, with mixed results:

It's kind of cool—if you're willing to simply trust that what you get is true. But I tend to do that with things like Wikipedia, anyway, unless I'm writing a real essay*, in which case I sigh and confirm via other sources. So I'm guessing for simple travel (how far from Leeds to London?) or money (how many dollars in a pound?) questions, I'll be happy to use it, and then follow their links to the source material and check it out myself if it's really important, if I need to lean on that answer to make a crucial decision about something.

But go play. It's fun.

I'm still worried about what evil uses Wolfram and Hart will put all your search queries and personal data to, now that they've teamed up with the rogue doll Alpha. [Wolfram Alpha]



So far Wolfram Alpha is a failure. I can't even get it to acknowledge that my home town exists. Sure it only has 250 people but when I put the name and state into google I get a map and the first link is to the wikipedia page. On Wolfram Alpha I get a page comparing a town with the same name in another state compared to my home state and no way that I can see to refine the answer.

I read a lot about how it will compare things so I tried anthropology vs. sociology and it got confused. I did just anthropology and just sociology and it had a sentence for each.

It seems as if it can't reduce it to numbers it isn't able to do much.