In the “computational knowledge engine” (computational knowledge engine) Tungsten Alpha by Wolfram Research, you enter your query into the text field on the website like in an Internet search engine and the result is presented after a few moments. Unlike Google & Co., however, this does not consist of a list of links to websites whose text contains one or more of the search terms, but rather of a clear summary of the relevant facts together with source information, supplemented with charts, diagrams and maps depending on the topic.
This works well with questions about facts about mathematics, technology, natural sciences, linguistics or even economics that can be answered with numbers, tables, charts or formulas: For example, the entered number series “2, 3, 5, 7” recognizes Wolfram Alpha as a result of the prime numbers and continues it accordingly. The question about “H2SO4” brings a three-dimensional representation of a sulfuric acid molecule on the screen, “uncle’s uncle’s brother’s son” clarifies distant family relationships by pedigree, “2 cups orange juice + 1 slice of cheddar cheese” reveals calorie and protein content of breakfast, “c_m___e_” helps stuck English crossword friends with possible additions.
If you type in “Katrina”, you will see how many people living in the USA today probably carry this name; a curve shows how the number of babies baptized with this name has developed over the years. If you have thought about the storm, you have to add the request for “Katrina Hurricane” and see on a map the way of the storm and its strength, represented by the width of the track. The “knowledge engine” uses algorithms and tools from the Mathematica software package, which is also produced by Wolfram Research, for its calculations and graphic processing.
Most of the data raw material for the answers comes from hand-picked stocks specially prepared by Wolfram employees, while information on temperature or stock prices is obtained live from selected sources on the web. Sometimes even the IP address of the requesting computer is included, for example when requesting a sky map – the current constellation of the stars in relation to the user’s location appears in the browser.
The “knowledge machine” does not search the entire web, but only selected sources. Wolfram Alpha is neither intended nor suitable for the search for holiday bargains, cooking recipes, rumour kitchens or gossip. (pek)
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