Successor to Semantic Web Not Only For Nerds

You may have heard about Wolfram Alpha, tech savant Stephen Wolfram's new query-answering search engine. And if you follow gadget and tech reviews, you've probably read about what the engine can't do, despite it's immense potential.

The first iteration of Wolfram Alpha is somewhat unwieldy--especially if you're used to searching with more traditional engines like Google. The other frequent complaint is that it is long on statistical and scientific answers and short on pop cultural ones, bringing up only the bare bones bio on famous people and places. Wired complained that Wolfram Alpha is not "cool." 

Wired is right. It isn't cool.

Wolfram Alpha isn't built to give you your horoscope. It's not built to find you YouTube clips of Susan Boyle or dancing babies. And as PC Magazine notes, it's not built for vanity searches. Unlike Google, Wolfram Alpha has never heard of me, and it probably has never heard of you either. 

Surely all the hype about its release occulded some of its limitations. Some said it could be the Google or Wikipedia killer, and Stephen Wolfram wasn't shy about his goal of creating a superior repository of 3.0 knowledge.

The thing to keep in mind, however, is that Wolfram doesn't think like most other people. The kind of knowledge he's interested in--questions that have real factual or mathematical answers--are what his search engine is all about. Scientists and mathematicians will make great use of this rapid and reliable encyclopedia cum calculator, probably by asking questions that most of us would never think to ask, as PC World points out. In short, it creates new answers to computational questions, rather than scouring the web for already existing information.

A non-scientist probably won't be able to understand some of the results Wolfram Alpha finds, but that doesn't mean it isn't useful for the rest of us. As a lover of useless or mostly useless information, I get a kick out of the fact that the search engine can tell me within moments that I'm 9,166 days old, that Mercury's distance from Earth is .551 AU and that the element praseodymium ranks 37th in abundance in the planet's crust, but only 51st in abundance in the universe.

As Wolfram demonstrated in a presentation aired by Big Think, you could look up your hourly salary and the engine will tell you how much you'll gross in a week, a month or a year. Other engines could get this information, but not in the direct, just-the-facts-please way Wolfram's engine brings it to you. 

Wolfram Alpha is far from complete and requires something of a learning curve to master. But don't bash it because it's unapologetically nerdy. No one designed it to be hip.

'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
Keep reading Show less

Meet the Bajau sea nomads — they can reportedly hold their breath for 13 minutes

The Bajau people's nomadic lifestyle has given them remarkable adaptions, enabling them to stay underwater for unbelievable periods of time. Their lifestyle, however, is quickly disappearing.

Wikimedia Commons
Culture & Religion
  • The Bajau people travel in small flotillas throughout the Phillipines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, hunting fish underwater for food.
  • Over the years, practicing this lifestyle has given the Bajau unique adaptations to swimming underwater. Many find it straightforward to dive up to 13 minutes 200 feet below the surface of the ocean.
  • Unfortunately, many disparate factors are erasing the traditional Bajau way of life.
Keep reading Show less

After death, you’re aware that you’ve died, say scientists

Some evidence attributes a certain neurological phenomenon to a near death experience.

Credit: Petr Kratochvil.
Surprising Science

Time of death is considered when a person has gone into cardiac arrest. This is the cessation of the electrical impulse that drive the heartbeat. As a result, the heart locks up. The moment the heart stops is considered time of death. But does death overtake our mind immediately afterward or does it slowly creep in?

Keep reading Show less

Cornell scientists engineer artificial material that has three key traits of life

An innovation may lead to lifelike self-reproducing and evolving machines.

Shogo Hamada/Cornell University
Surprising Science
  • Scientists at Cornell University devise a material with 3 key traits of life.
  • The goal for the researchers is not to create life but lifelike machines.
  • The researchers were able to program metabolism into the material's DNA.
Keep reading Show less