Wolfram Alpha Revisited

November 12, 2009
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Back in May of this year I took a look at WolframAlpha in my blog Is WolframAlpha The Next Big Thing In Analytics? Since Wolfram’s high profile (rock star) launch things had died down to a muted whisper – not a bad thing as anything as ambitious as Wolfram needs time to mature.

For those not familiar with Wolfram|Alpha, here is a summary of its features from the company itself:

200911Wolfram_UI

 That has changed in the last couple of weeks or so as a number of interesting things have happened:

  • Microsoft’s search engine Bing will soon feature results from Wolfram|Alpha. More specifically it will use Wolfram to power certain queries about math, health and nutrition. An oft-quoted example is of Bing users who want to compare the nutritional value of a banana versus an orange will get a computed answer piped in from Wolfram|Alpha.
  •  Wolfram|Alpha just released a AU$60 iPhone app that has proven unexpectedly popular.
  • 3 weeks ago the company announced the Wolfram|Alpha API. Microsoft’s Bing decision engine is one of the first API customers.
  • Google is moving to counter Wolfram’s capabilities. One example is Google’s announcement that it now uses public data from the World



Back in May of this year I took a look at WolframAlpha in my blog Is WolframAlpha The Next Big Thing In Analytics? Since Wolfram’s high profile (rock star) launch things had died down to a muted whisper – not a bad thing as anything as ambitious as Wolfram needs time to mature.

For those not familiar with Wolfram|Alpha, here is a summary of its features from the company itself:

200911Wolfram_UI

 That has changed in the last couple of weeks or so as a number of interesting things have happened:

  • Microsoft’s search engine Bing will soon feature results from Wolfram|Alpha. More specifically it will use Wolfram to power certain queries about math, health and nutrition. An oft-quoted example is of Bing users who want to compare the nutritional value of a banana versus an orange will get a computed answer piped in from Wolfram|Alpha.
  • 200911Wolfram_iPhoneM Wolfram|Alpha just released a AU$60 iPhone app that has proven unexpectedly popular.
  • 3 weeks ago the company announced the Wolfram|Alpha API. Microsoft’s Bing decision engine is one of the first API customers.
  • Google is moving to counter Wolfram’s capabilities. One example is Google’s announcement that it now uses public data from the World Bank to display graphs for queries like “internet users in Australia.” To do this Google makes uses of the World Bank’s public API. 

Earlier this year, Google also added to its search results pages data from other public data sources such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau’s Population Division. They have also launched a webpage asking to hear from data publishers who are interested in making their data discoverable in Google:

Tell us about your organization’s public data

Does your organization produce statistical information or other public data that you would like to make more accessible and easier to use? If so, please tell us about your organization and the data you now make publicly available or would like to make available, including details about its format.

Your data will be useful to us as we continue to develop tools we would like to offer to organizations like yours. While we won’t be able to individually reply to everyone who fills out this form, we may be in touch to learn more about your data.

For more information on how public data will be used or accessed through Google, read our information for data publishers.

Ready to tell us about your organization’s data? First select your organization type:

  • Government
  • Education and research
  • Non-profit
  • Commercial

Here’s an example search result using World Bank data:

20091112 Google World Bank data

Both Google and Wolfram are trying to change search into answer. This is a pretty exciting development and I look forward to Microsoft (Wolfram soon to be a subsidiary?) and Google battling it out to answer more of my analytic questions.

As of today, Wolfram has the edge in terms of its ability to answer a surprisingly wide range of questions. Examples include:

  • integrate x sin x log x
  • $200K mortgage at 7% for 30 years
  • words containing mpg
  • 100 AUD to euro
  • weather in Sydney when Obama was born
  • 4th largest female population in Europe
  • MSFT vs. Apple vs. IBM (stocks)
  • mother’s sister’s uncle
  • 140.177.20.10 (IP addresses)
  • 1-5795-5008-8 (barcodes)
  • soybeans future (financial markets)

Wolfram domains include:

  • Mathematics
  • Statistics & Data Analysis
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Materials
  • Engineering
  • Astronomy
  • Earth Sciences
  • Life Sciences
  • Technological World
  • Transportation
  • Computational Sciences
  • Web & Computer Systems
  • Units & Measures
  • Money & Finance
  • Dates & Times
  • Places & Geography
  • Socioeconomic Data
  • Weather
  • Health & Medicine
  • Food & Nutrition
  • Words & Linguistics
  • Culture & Media
  • People & History
  • Education
  • Organisations
  • Sports & Games
  • Music
  • Colours

Google, however, still has the edge in terms of flexibility in mining a vastly wider number of textual sources. Google’s data mining (and answering) ambitions seem more modest when compared to Wolfram, but I suspect that the Bing announcement has driven Google Labs into overdrive. Expect more announcements over the coming year.

If you want to smile, then check out either this piece from the Australian newspaper or this article from epicentre on the ‘iPhone app for Rain Man’.

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