Wolfram Alpha – A Computational Search Engine Platform

Wolfram Alpha – A Computational Search Engine Platform

Wolfram Alpha, a search engine which makes use of computational intelligence, returns accurate results for factual queries of all complexity levels.

Presently, whenever we speak of search engines, the name that pops up in our mind is of Google. In fact, we are so dependent upon Google that we often don’t tend to consider any other option, even though it might be better suited for our purpose.

Google's search engine is undoubtedly one of the most potent and expansive choices. More so, owing to the steady and perpetual developments made by Google in this field. Yet, despite all the benefits, Google search focuses on general search results, rather than complex, niche-specific ones.

Herein lies the significance of WolframAlpha, a search engine which makes use of computational intelligence. In case you are looking for more specific search results, say, the solution to a complex mathematical problem, using WolframAlpha is the right way to go.

WolframAlpha – Finding the Answers Within

Whenever you make a query in one of the conventional search engines, including Google and Microsoft Bing, it hovers over the internet to gather results from a variety of sources.

Founded by Stephen Wolfram in 2009, WolframAlpha has a starkly different approach to searching. Instead of hovering over the internet, this search engine hovers over its own, carefully curated databases to return to-the-point results. In other words, it can indeed be said that WolframAlpha looks for the answers within itself and not without.

The Working of WolframAlpha

Unlike other search engines, WolframAlpha doesn’t return thousands of webpages, articles, images and so on, in reply to a query. Instead, it gives the user the specific answer to the question asked, displayed in a way which also makes it easy to read and access.

In fact, WolframAlpha is based on the famous Wolfram Mathematica (1988), and the search engine was initially accused of being limited to only mathematical and scientific problems.

Obviously, the search engine has overcome such accusations and has come a long way in being able to return equally appropriate results from diverse fields. It can even tell you about, say, the notes of a D# Mixolydian scale and how it looks on a Piano. The ability to include images has been a later inclusion for WolframAlpha but it has, nonetheless, caught up in no time.

The data returned by WolframAlpha is collected from sources like CIA’s The World Factbook, US Geological survey and so on, which guarantees the accuracy of the results. These data are then fed into a database consisting of more than 15 million lines, coded in Wolfram language. Owing to the immense background computation which is set to work in returning answers, the search engine runs on more than 10,000 CPUs.

WolframAlpha in Education

Obviously, by providing answers and solutions to complex problems, WolframAlpha has enhanced the learning process at all levels of education. Statistical data can be fed into the search engine as queries and WolframAlpha can represent the same in graphical and other formats. In fact, the WolframAlpha is so good at answering questions that it has often been referred to as an ‘answer engine’ and not a ‘search engine’.

However, at times, this capacity of WolframAlpha has been misused, in the sense, that it’s used for academic ‘cheating’. Time and again, it has been found that students use the platform to find solutions to problems, without actually solving them, especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses.

With the search engines’ Pro version, which comes at a price of $57 p.a., it is possible to get accurate step-by-step results to any query. As a result, when someone copies down these results into their assignments, it often becomes impossible to accuse them of having cheated.

The outcome of such practices has been a sort of ethical dilemma among educators, which has led some to demand an outright ban on the use of WolframAlpha for educational purposes, at least, in the lower levels. Owing to the ever-increasing reach of the internet, such a demand seems quite far-fetched. That said, the fact remains, however, that the validity of the accusation cannot fully be denied.

Shortcomings of WolframAlpha

When it comes to returning results to queries involving factual computation, there’s no one like WolframAlpha. Moreover, it returns precise, to-the-point answers and rules out the need to sift through a number of webpages. Yet, the search engine is significantly stunted when it comes to dealing with queries made in common language, say, “How do I play the piano?”. Try it yourself, and you’ll know what I mean.

Since most of our searches are usually made in common language, WolframAlpha is not suited for the purpose of regular searches. Thus, the popularity and dependence on Google, which is becoming all the more adept at understanding common language with every passing day.

To conclude, it can be said that both Google and WolframAlpha are equally significant in their own domains. Google is the go-to choice for results involving general queries, especially those in common language. WolframAlpha, on the other hand, is the platform best suited for queries which involve complex calculations and facts. More than being a question of the one vs the other, it’s a matter of complementing each other to provide the user with an expanded scope for searching information on the internet.

Prateek Arora

Contributing Editor at Wimoxez. Apart from this, I'm big into books and love reading books in different niche.

wimoxez: Data, Insights and Intelligence

Data, Insights and Intelligence media platform and bring the best resources to explore valuable technologies which will shape tomorrow.