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WolframAlpha: A Computational Knowledge Engine

 Randy Scott

In 2009, Wolfram Research Inc. released the first version of WolframAlpha, a computational knowledge engine. WolframAlpha is not another search engine. Instead, WolframAlpha computes the answers to questions.


For example, suppose we are planning a trip to San Francisco in March and we want to find the average temperature. A quick trip to Google with the search “average temperature San Francisco” yields only 19,000,000 results.




However, if we navigate to



and type “average temperature San Francisco” and click on the  , we get



There’s some interesting information here, but let’s include the term “March” in our query:



This tells us that the average temperature in San Francisco in March 2010 was 54° F.


It is possible that March 2010 was a particularly warm (or cool) month. Let’s modify our query to include a range of years:



In fact, March 2010 was a few degrees cooler than the average for the decade. For the identical query “average temperature San Francisco March 2000 to 2010” Google returns 3,880,000 results. (Curiously, the second result on Google is a link titled “Chicago Yearly Temperature, Precipitation and Snowfall Graphs.”)


The power of WolframAlpha lies in its ability to interpret natural language inputs and to return results that specifically address the query. The results are returned along with any assumptions that are being made



and an unambiguous interpretation of the query.



WolframAlpha accesses data from a wide variety of sources. We can ask about Science


Education (note the ability to make comparisons)






(Note: WolframAlpha also informs us of the true value of determinism



assuming no double or triple word score spaces are taken!),





and just about any other area of objective study.


Asking a subjective question


does not usually return a result, but if we ask an objective question,




we can see that the movie executives among us realize that Psycho is the better movie. (Of course, the Grace Kelly fans know that Rear Window is the better film!)


If you navigate to the WolframAlpha website ( ), you will find thousands of examples categorized by subject.


One last query (for you Monty Python fans . . .)


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