15 May 2009
I'm terribly excited right now. In just a few hours from now (May 15, 10 pm CEST), Wolfram|Alpha will open its doors. The extra cool thing is they'll be doing a live webcast of the behind-the-scenes process. So yes, I'm sure you'll be jumping up and down with excitement as you're reading this too, right?
If not, you may not realize the potential Wolfram|Alpha (I'll be calling it Wolpha from now on for convenience) possesses. Although I obviously haven't been able to try it out myself yet, I'll try to explain why you should be on the brink of falling off your chair now.
I'm pretty sure you're familiar with Google. Google is teh awesome, because it's a very powerful search engine. Theoretically, it has all the knowledgde that's publicly available in the world and then some.
But consider this. I want to know how far away from Earth the Moon is. Ok, let's Google it. [try it yourself!] Let's see... It doesn't give me the answer right away... There's some pages that seem to hold the answer though. Let's click one. Answers given on that page: "(...) about 384,403 kilometers/238,857 miles", "The average center-to-center distance from the Earth to the Moon is 384,403 kilometres (238,857 miles)", "average distance is 238,857 miles". Ah now, that's obvious, the Moon is on average 238,857 miles away from Earth.
Now that's very nice, but as you may have noticed, that is the average distance. So it is not a constant. And so the question remains, how far away from Earth is the Moon right now! No problem, I can add 'right now' to the search query and it gives me the proper result on another webpage.
But what is its distance for example "tomorrow at 1 am CEST"? And right there, Google lets us down. But it's ok, we can't expect a webpage to interpret our human thoughts and come up with the right answer.
Or can we? As far as I understand it, Wolpha is going to do exactly that. It will tell you the exact distance of the Moon at a specific time. Or if you want, it will tell you the weather on Chuck Norris' birthday. Or it makes graphs of mathematical functions. Or it will tell you the popularity of the name "Bill" in the US over the years. Or it will compare those thingies on the stock market I have no knowledge of (if it's able to predict, I don't know). Or it will give you pi to 128 decimals. Or it calculates the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow.
Still not convinced? Check out this screencast. But let me tell you: Wolpha is going to be HUGE!