Stephen Wolfram is one of the most famous and innovative Mathematicians of our time. In February, he gave a presentation for the TED Awards about “Computing a theory of everything,” where he discussed his computational software, Mathematica and WolframAlpha. Mathematica can be used “not just for computation, but for modeling, simulation, visualization, development, documentation, and deployment.” WolframAlpha is free, a computational knowledge engine that allows you to compute just about anything. Today I’d like to focus on WolframAlpha.
Just go to the WolframAlpha website and tell me that you are not blown away by how cool it is. A simple white box floats on a bright yellow backdrop of cogs and wheels, and beneath it a thought bubble appears, suggesting search topics like “the next rise of Jupiter” or “P && (Q || R).” Not only can WolframAlpha solve any equation, it can give you beautifully organized facts, including charts and graphs, about anything. Take your birthday, for example. Perhaps you were born on the 90th day of the year during a waxing crescent moon. Or, did you know that the average age of an American who shares your first name is 31?
Wolfram himself describes his creation as “a serious knowledge engine that computes answers to questions.” One of the amazing aspects of WolframAlpha is that it answers questions you didn’t know you had. You may search for “halitosis” because you are trying to think of a gentle way to tell a friend he has awful breath, but what you’ll find out is that the first known use of the word “halitosis” was in 1874 and that it will score you 12 points in a game of scrabble (not including double word scores etc). It gives you all sorts of different ways to look at the same concept. Even the equation 2+2=4 comes up with a visual representation in addition to the numerical.
Explore the capabilities of the WolframAlpha website and be sure to watch Stephen Wolfram’s TED presentation online. If you still want more, then check out WolframMathWorld, the web’s most extensive mathematics resource. Wolfram believes that, “From the foundations of science to the limits of technology to the very definition of the human condition, computation is destined to be the defining idea of out future.” What do you think?