Stephen Wolfram demos how Wolfram Alpha computes answers

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Stephen Wolfram demos how Wolfram Alpha computes answers

Cliff Saran

Stephen Wolfram founder and CEO of Wolfram Research has given a European demonstration of his company's Wolfram Alpha search tool.

Wolfram believes the world can be represented in a computational form as a mathematical model. He claims it is possible to build programming models to represent human knowledge. In Wolfram Alpha, these models can then be used to calculate answers to user questions.

"One of our objectives is to aim is to take expert knowledge and make it easily accessible by anyone," he said "Wolfram Alpha can take a specific question you ask and calculate the answer."

"This is an incredibly ambitious project - I have been thinking about doing it for a very long time," he said.

The tool is built on Mathematic, which is a computer language that deals with the formal technical concepts for technical computation - as used by R&D labs. Wolfram Alpha uses this to compute human knowledge, according to Wolfram. He said, "The purpose is to see if we can build a system to compute knowledge accumulated by our civilisation."

The underlying data that Wolfram Alpha uses, is picked from expert sources. Mathematica analyses this data automatically and human curators are used as domain experts to check the data.

Wolfram said the computation and algorithms take the fruits of science and engineering and encode them in a mathematical form using Mathematica so that they can be used by Wolfram Alpha.

The third component is natural language process. Finally, Wolfram Alpha uses automated presentation, to enable users to see the results in an accessible way.

In the demo, Wolfram typed a question into Wolfram Alpha to get an answer. He showed how the tool could be used to give results for a mathematical formula. The technology allows users to see the steps the algorithm tool uses to calculate the results.

It's not just limited to mathematical data. Wolfram showed how the tool could give the user the GDP of France - with data, graphs and textural results.

However, during the demo he found a bug, when he tried to asked Wolfram Alpha what is the life expectancy of a 50 year old in Finland. The software is yet to be released.


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