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.

Compelling speakers do these 4 things every single time

The ability to speak clearly, succinctly, and powerfully is easier than you think

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee rally at the Anaheim Convention Center on September 8, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Barbara Davidson/Getty Images)
Personal Growth

The ability to communicate effectively can make or break a person's assessment of your intelligence, competence, and authenticity.

Keep reading Show less

This 5-minute neck scan can spot dementia 10 years before it emerges

The results come from a 15-year study that used ultrasound scans to track blood vessels in middle-aged adults starting in 2002.

Mikhail Kalinin via Wikipedia
Mind & Brain
  • The study measured the stiffness of blood vessels in middle-aged patients over time.
  • Stiff blood vessels can lead to the destruction of delicate blood vessels in the brain, which can contribute to cognitive decline.
  • The scans could someday become a widely used tool to identify people at high risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's.
Keep reading Show less

How 'dark horses' flip the script of success and happiness

What defines a dark horse? The all-important decision to pursue fulfillment and excellence.

Big Think Books

When we first set the Dark Horse Project in motion, fulfillment was the last thing on our minds. We were hoping to uncover specific and possibly idiosyncratic study methods, learning techniques, and rehearsal regimes that dark horses used to attain excellence. Our training made us resistant to ambiguous variables that were difficult to quantify, and personal fulfillment seemed downright foggy. But our training also taught us never to ignore the evidence, no matter how much it violated our expectations.

Keep reading Show less