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WolframAlpha Hooks Me

WolframAlpha Knows It All
WolframAlpha Knows It All by cogdogblog
posted 16 May ’09, 8.44am MDT PST on flickr

This is one smart thing!

I now know that the meaning life has no quantity 😉

I’ve ignored following most of the pre-release on examples to get a taste of what it can do, and then see what happens as you modify it. So for a real simple one, say elevation of places, I try the highest point in the US – well heck I think Google knows that, Mount McKinley at 20 335 feet. The results are presented in data chunks, so I can explore down a path of looking ay Mount McKinley or (don’t know why) 20 335 feet. The McKinley path gives me more related information- year climbed, a map location, the atmospheric pressure at that peak elevation, nearby cities, and nearby high mountains– all fo those are more links to data and data and data.

Back to my original highest point in the US , it gives me the sources of all the data (linked).

But now I can dig deeper- get the highest point in Arizona, which I knew (and have been to), Humphreys Peak,12 631 feet near Flagstaff, plus other info about Arizona like land area, the lowest point. Hmmmm

I start thinking that it is about 0.5 * McKinley, so I try a comparison search AZ AK highest point and I get all of the data side by side for comparison.

Neato, Wally!

More curiosity. Arizona is hot, what is its hottest temperature? It gives current info, 75 degrees F (and lets me easily flip units to 24C).

What if I want historic? I recalled the hottest temperature ever was in 1990, and sure enough a search on /?i=AZ+highest+temperature+1990 gives me that magical day – June 26, 1990, when the Phoenix temperatures hit 120 F (wow I could have sworn it was 125… but what do I know).

And I can go more narrow- I can find out the temps for my little town of Strawberry – Strawberry AZ highest temperature 1990 to find that on that hot day in June it pegged 103F here (and later n the year, Dec 23, 1990 it dipped as low as -9F).

It just feels amazing. It is not, I repeat not, a “Google Killer” – Google does miracles by shooting into the barrel a search term and getting a close match on some obscure items (and getting a whole lot else)– WolframAlpha looks like it works when you can formulate terms that can narrow or expand information as data.

And what more does one need to know than 42?

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. Agreed, not a Google killer, since Google is fueled (so far as I can tell) by augmenting human intellect by noting acts of deliberate linking and assuming those acts are meaningful in some way. The searcher decides on the meaning; Google merely returns results with a high probability of relevance (because it assumes the human beings act in purposeful and meaningful ways most of the time). That’s “merely,” but that’s also “wonderfully,” as Google is essentially a platform for massively distributed intelligence.

    WolframAlpha is more AI than Augmentation, though it wouldn’t work if there weren’t a WWW (not just an Internet) that has generated so much human interest and activity that this stuff actually got put in openly discoverable places. Plus it’s not really returning purposeful human behavior so much as it’s returning information its semantic engines determine (with, it must be said, pretty daggone good determination) will be relevant in deep and broad contexts.

    So maybe Google is the map and WolframAlpha is the territory?

    We’ll see. First I have to figure out how to get WolframAlpha to stop assuming “Gardner” is a surname…. 🙂

  2. After a few more experiments, I’m not getting the rich results I’d expect (and that the demo touts). Either I ask strange questions (of course) or the server is just fried with all the geek traffic.

    The “tips for asking questions” is quite interesting, btw….

  3. So far, I’d have to say that I’m fascinated by what Wolfram Alpha can do, but less thrilled with the largely opaque approach to data that it embodies. I just posted a rather lengthy piece on the subject over at my blog – we’ll see what people have to say.

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