Wolfram/Alpha's 'computational knowledge engine'
Feb. 15, 2016
by Mark Ollig

Have you used the powerful Internet search engine that provides better detail and clarity than commonly used search engines with their endless web links?

This feature-rich, online resource has been available for almost seven years – yet it’s still not widely recognized.

Try your next mathematical calculation, or search for information, using the Wolfram|Alpha Computational Knowledge Engine.

Search results are obtained through real-time computations using a vast, internal collection of continually updated algorithms, and a pioneering computing language.

Its programs use “Wolfram Language” software created by Stephen Wolfram, which is based on his Mathematica software programing language.

Wolfram, 56, is a scientist, mathematician, and theoretical physicist.

He is also the founder and CEO of Wolfram|Alpha Research, which is headquartered in Champaign, IL.

The Wolfram|Alpha project began in 2005.

The original Wolfram|Alpha computational data servers became available to the public over the Internet May 15, 2009.

Wolfram|Alpha has grown considerably since 2009, and is continually adding to its knowledge base.

Its processing uses some 10 million lines of Mathematica code, and its servers contain terabytes of data.

Wolfram|Alpha sources 32 specific disciplines, or areas of study and interest, you can directly access for your research. Some of these disciplines include:

• Mathematics.

• Engineering.

• Chemistry.

• Music.

• Health and Medicine.

• Food and Nutrition.

• Culture and Media.

• People and History.

• Web and Computer Systems.

• Computational Sciences.

• Astronomy.

• Arts and Design.

• Surprises.

“Surprises” shows example sentences for “conversing” with Wolfram|Alpha, and sample questions used within the study and interest areas.

The Mathematics subject area includes many problem-solving examples.

One can query specific values for solving a variety of complex mathematical equations.

You can do some serious math; such as: “integrate x^2sin^3 x dx” and see the detailed, formulated results, and graphical plots of the integral.

The Web and Computer Systems section contains much information about data networks, Internet protocols, and website addresses or uniform resource locator (URL).

In one example, I computed the data transfer time over devices using Wi-Fi wireless networks with an 802.11n data transfer protocol.

This section also provides information about “notable computers” used in the past.

Comparing software products, obtaining information about various file formats, or finding a program to work with a specific file, is also accessible.

There’s a side-by-side wireless comparison feature. Type in wireless networks you want compared; such as the data transfer rate of an 802.11n and an 802.11b wireless network.

The Web and Computer Systems section also includes a 12 character password and captcha generator, and will analyze a password’s “strength.”

This section had an easy-to-use hexadecimal, decimal, octal, and binary conversion tool, which sure would have been helpful for me to have had many years ago.

Back in those days, yours truly was completing these conversions with the only computational computing tools available: paper, pencils, erasers, and my brain processor.

Wolfram|Alpha will answer how much time remains until a special event, such as a holiday.

At 7:19 a.m. last Wednesday, I queried: “hours until Christmas.”

The answer given was: 7,656 hours.

Wolfram|Alpha also neatly broke down this timespan into: months, weeks, and days. We still have plenty of shopping days (319 as of last Wednesday) until Christmas.

Students (and adults) learning to code are creating many beneficial software applications (apps) we use on our smartphones, tablets, laptops, and other smartdevices.

These coders are taking ideas, and turning them into reality.

“The Wolfram Demonstrations Project section is an open-code resource that uses dynamic computation to illuminate concepts in science, technology, mathematics, art, finance, and a remarkable range of other fields,” said Stephen Wolfram.

This project section currently has 10,537 interactive project demonstrations.

Within this section, typing the word “Coding” showed 296 separate coding demonstration projects.

The direct link to the Access Demonstrations Projects is: http://demonstrations.wolfram.com/index.html.

An excellent introduction of the Wolfram Language programming code, by Stephen Wolfram, is here: http://tinyurl.com/WolframLang.

Do you want to know how far the moon or other celestial body is from Earth at the exact moment you ask?

Last Tuesday morning at 7:53 a.m., I queried Wolfram|Alpha with; “Current distance to the moon.”

Its computing algorithms reported the moon was exactly 227,399 miles away from Earth.

Interesting details on how this number was obtained were also provided.

How about the Gross Domestic Product of Minnesota? Just type “GDP Minnesota” and you will quickly see the results. For 2014, it was $316.2 billion.

Typing “GDP Minnesota Wisconsin” showed a side-by-side state comparison.

In case you’re wondering, Wisconsin’s 2014 GDP was $292.9 billion.

When Wolfram|Alpha first went online, May 15, 2009; its search engine’s servers becoming accessible over the Internet. This event was livestreamed on the Justin TV website.

After watching the event, I was inspired to write a column about it: http://tinyurl.com/bytes-05-18-2009.

I invite you to explore the wealth of information, research and learning opportunities using the Wolfram|Alpha Computational Knowledge Engine: http://www.wolframalpha.com.

Wolfram|Alpha’s Twitter handle is: @Wolfram_Alpha.

Follow me on Twitter at: @bitsandbytes.

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