Wolfram Alpha: a huge step forward, except for work moral

As much as I am a Free Software supporter, I cannot help but be happy when I see a really really awesome piece of software – even if it is proprietary, closed source and all the otherbadness that goes around… And such a piece of jaw-droppingly cool awesomeness is Wolfram Alpha, the Google of science.

Much has been said of Wolfram Alpha that needs not be repeated. Basically, it’s an extended calculating machine. But it also does dates in history, stock rates, conversion of natural constants, etc. And, even greater, it understands to some extend a normal daily-life language. No rigid syntax necessary. Take a look here:

Wolfra Alpha understands words. Not every time - but then it gives you hints as to what confuses it, and you can restate your question.

Wolfra Alpha understands words. Not every time - but then it gives you hints as to what confuses it, and you can restate your question.

I played around  with it while working on some astrophysics exercises – at first just to convert some natural constants. Then as a simple pocket calculator. And  then I tried simply typing in the entire problem – with obscure units and everything – and tell it in which units I wanted the output, and voilá:

Wolfram Alpha solving a problem stated as a mixture of numbers, words and units. Note how neatly it tells you its interpretation of the question before actually solving it.

Wolfram Alpha solving a problem stated as a mixture of numbers, words and units. Note how neatly it tells you its interpretation of the question before actually solving it.

The original question stated here was:

32*G/(5*c^5)*4/25*(1.4*sun mass)^2*(10 km)^2*(1 mm)^2*((2*pi)/(5 milliseconds))^6 in ergs per second

A mish-mash of words, unit conversions and number crunching. Solved elegantly by listing its assumptions and interpretations and since solving the problem and then giving some alternative units and additional information! Too bad this is not Free Software – but yours truly is one little awestruck and impressed guy!

Just to clear my conscience: the rest of  the exercise was solved using the Maxima Texmacs interface. And as soon as I get the time, I’ll have a look at the awesome new Sage software package. It needs some polish, it doesn’t get anywhere near Wolfram Alpha when it comes to that – but it seems very, very promising indeed.

PS: what is the average flight velocity of an unladen swallow?

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About lusepuster

Født medio 1979. Astrofysikstuderende. Kommunist. Musikelsker. Computernørd.
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One Response to Wolfram Alpha: a huge step forward, except for work moral

  1. kajivar says:

    Interesting article. Indeed, Wolfram Alpha is getting very good. That velocity of an unladen swallow is fun 😉

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