So, Wolfram Research, the company who created Mathematica, an amazing bit of math and visualization software has just released something called "Wolfram Alpha". Its supposed to be a kind of search engine for data as opposed to contextual information. For example, from this Information Week article,

Whereas Google takes an ambiguous query like "bass" and returns results related to the fish, the musical instrument, and the shoe brand, Wolfram/Alpha returns an array of nutritional data related to the fish.

Ok, I guess, that's useful, but one the first few results on google will probably also be the wikipedia page on bass, giving me the same information. Article like this have been gushing about this new service, saying its not like google, but then comparing it directly to google.

I decided to test this out myself. The bass example seemed a bit esoteric, so I thought I'd start off with:

"distance to the moon in pennies"

This is one of those common nonsense measurements that help kids learn that grownups think they're dumb. Wolfram Alpha reports:

"*Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input."*

On google, the first two results were directly about this question and the second actually gave the answer. I decided maybe this was too lighthearted for Wolfram Alpha, so I tried:

"fermat's last theorem"

This is a famous theorem made in by Fermat in the notes of some other paper. In this note he gave the theorem and said he thought he could prove it, but died before he could put in to paper. This seemed like a pretty good topic. Wolfram Alpha said:

"*Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input."*

Google on the other hand, returned a full first page of results related just to this, the third result I might add was a link back to a Wofram Site. I decided to dumb it down a bit, but above the pennies question. How long to hard boil an egg?

"hard boiled egg"

This time WoframApha did have some results. Massive amounts of vitamin and mineral nutritional facts, but nothing about the time to hard boil an egg, the different times for different hard/soft qualities, what to change depending on altititude, which google returned in addition to all the information given by Wolfram Alpha.

The one area it did succeed in besting Google on was a calculation suggested by the Information Week article, "$250 + 15%." Wolfram Alpha correctly took the percentage of $250 first and then added the result.

Hooray! We have a web based search engine that can do something my solar powered ruler calulator could do when I was in 3rd grade. I wonder how many pennies that comes out to?

## Comments

You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.