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quinta-feira, 10 de novembro de 2011

Information Search Engine WolframAlpha

When you search something in Google, Google doesn’t search this something for you, it searches for websites which may or may not contain the information you are looking for. In other words, Google doesn’t care about the reliability of the information it finds. He can find the website which has the information you needed, but discover if the results are all lies, depends of your judgement, ability to mistrust and search.

This is not a problem only with Google, it is a general problem of these times of the “age of the information”. Wikipedia, as an example, has an army of revisers (most of then volunteers) to assure that the information in the website is reliable. Since it is a job where each article needs to be revised one by one, it takes more time than we would like to take and that is one of the reasons why Wikipedia don’t have all the credit it could have.

Thinking about this challenge, which will be one of the big challenges in the next years to make the search engines more efficient, a crazy English man named Stephen Wolfram created the website

It is an information search engine. Instead of giving you a list of websites which may have the information you are looking for, it goes straight to a reliable source and bring to you the information. Despite the fact the project is still at its initial steps of development, it is already possible to play a lot with it.

It may sound confusing, I mean, to me, a stupid person at first it was. I didn’t got how to use the website or why it would be useful. But, as I played with it, it started to make sense. I will give some examples.

Searching a simple word like “war”, it returns definitions, information about pronunciation, etymology, this kind of stuff and also a graphic showing how often this word was used in books and publications in the last 500 years. It is interesting to search words relating the results with some historic period, to give you one idea, to “war” we can verify a peak at the periods of the first and second world wars.

Another interesting example is that if you search for something, like the planet Mars, it gives you back information about the mass, atmosphere composition, temperature, number of moons and even an image showing the position of the planet right now inside the solar system. In other words, the information given is dynamic and self updated.

However one of the things that I liked the most is related to the fact that the entire website is a gigantic “Mathematical Machine”, so it is possible to use it to solve equations an calculations, going from basic stuff to highly complicated operations including differential equations. Do not underestimate the website, it can solve and give graphics and everything to something like 3xˆ10+log4x+10 in seconds.

Something still in early development is a “more human” search of information, able to interpret question marks and so on, but it already gives some interesting results. An example is if you try something like “Am I drunk?”, it returns a table which can help you to find out. Or if search “what is the meaning of life?” if returns the famous 42 from the Hitchhiker’s to the Galaxy, giving as source the book hehehe.

Before you go running wild like a kid who got permission to eat that chocolate, like I said some lines above, the project is still not finished, so you must know that some searches may give a different result than you would expect. But be happy, doing this kind of searches you can help the website to improve.

Next time you need to solve a complex equation, or something simple like 2+2 when you are feeling really lazy, or if you need a numeric trustable information about something, give it a try, you may get surprised with the results.