Meet Wolfram Alpha, The Mind-Blowing Intelligence Service That Powers Siri

stephen wolframStephen Wolfram, creator of Wolfram Alpha

Photo: Patexia

Wolfram Alpha is an astonishingly powerful piece of software that helps you find nearly any piece of factual information you could want.Sounds an awful lot like Google, doesn’t it? It’s actually an entirely different monster.

Here’s the distinction: where Google looks externally to find what it thinks you want, Wolfram Alpha looks within. It’s a self-contained program that you access over the Internet or with the mobile app, crunching facts the same way a computer crunches numbers.

It does this by piping in loads of information from all over the place — everything from every weather data point ever collected to the chemical structure of nearly every compound to the names of the notes in a D minor chord. It’s not so much a search engine as it is a “knowledge engine.”

Its value has even been recognised by Apple, who integrated some of Wolfram Alpha’s basic functionality with Siri to give factual answers to the user’s questions.

Wolfram Alpha is the brainchild of Stephen Wolfram, a British scientist who is attempting to make knowledge “computable.” By creating software that can sift through the most basic pieces of factual information, an unbelievable world of possibility opens up.

In its simplest form, Wolfram Alpha attempts to be the best “knowledge engine” for questions with a quantitative, factual answer.

But the larger concept behind Wolfram Alpha is much more powerful than that — it literally attempts to unify the sum of human knowledge.

It knows stock prices, even in the past

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Everything you ever wanted to know about currency

It can make comparisons between almost anything

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Figure out how effective your workout is

Do some interesting maths

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Track astronomic events

Do weird maths, like the GDP of Spain divided by the revenue of Microsoft

You can roll any number of dice with any number of sides

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And we can even calculate the total length of the NYC subway system

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Here's Stephen Wolfram himself giving a demo of Wolfram Alpha (start at 6:00)

This powerful technology is baked into Siri

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