Hello, human: A Dialog With Wolfram Alpha

If you like reading tech news, visit sites like TechCrunch or simply happen to have enough tech people among your Twitter contacts you must have heard about Wolfram|Alpha. In case you haven’t heard about it, here’s a 5-word summary: it’s a new search engine. Well, technically it’s a computational knowledge engine, but you wouldn’t know that by reading most of the news coverage prior to the site’s launch last weekend. Some said it will be cool, others predicted it’ll be important, yet others proclaimed it’ll be huge. And obviously, some said it’ll be a compete failure. Now as the site has launched we will undoubtedly see reviews comparing it to Google and other search engines, praising or questioning its capabilities, and wondering about its business model. Meanwhile, I think, Wolfram|Alpha has already a remarkable achievement under its belt: it has proven that even today people feel that there’s more to be found on the Web.

Think about it: you can essentially find anything these days. Between major search engines and hundreds of special ones you can find sites, books, videos, songs, pictures, products, people, articles, businesses, free stuff… just about anything. Sometimes it may take a bit of an effort, but it’s not that hard. The world’s knowledge is no longer a black box it used to be not so long ago. Sure there’s the deep Web and the promise of semantic search, but most people searching online don’t even know about these things. So why would anyone even care about a new search engine, yet alone care enough to turn it into a hot topic? One answer could be that people have been always seeking better ways to explore the world around them. Another possibility is that people want new cool toys in any area, be it mobile phones or search engines. Or it could be that the buzz about Wolfram|Alpha has more to do with its main creator than with its capabilities (though this wouldn’t explain similar buzz around Cuil back in 2008).

Whatever the right answer is, it seems that Wolfram|Alpha is ahead of the pack in one aspect that is rarely used to compare search engine: sense of humor. The only engine that could’ve competed with it in that department would’ve been Ms. Dewey, but she’s no longer with us.  What you see below is a real dialog I had a with the system (or rather with the people who equipped it with such distinctive behavior). Whether you need another search engine or not, it’s worth a test drive — if for nothing else then at least for the pleasure of asking a computer about the meaning of life — and receiving an answer.














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