Wolfram Alpha & useless information

Wolfram Alpha logo

A few days ago a new internet search engine was launched: Wolfram Alpha. Interesting. It’s very much in the development stage and should go from strength to strength, if the search engine’s own blurb is to be believed. At this stage some of its results are laughable, as explained by a Slate magazine article titled Like Google, Only Much, Much Worse.

Wolfram Alpha’s speciality is computation and scientific information. It’s own website says, immodestly:

Wolfram Alpha’s long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything. Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.

Wolfram Alpha aims to bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people—spanning all professions and education levels. Our goal is to accept completely free-form input, and to serve as a knowledge engine that generates powerful results and presents them with maximum clarity.

One thing it can do now is serve up information and calculations based on any date from the past you might give it. I looked up birth dates for myself and my brother, and ended up emailing this to said brother:

Twenty-two thousand, seven hundred and twenty-nine days ago, in the sixty-first day of the year 1947, Marie Dunsmore MacGibbon née Brown, clutching a wizened neonate everyone had told her was God’s most beautiful creature since the previous one, sat up, peered out the window by her bed at Dunedin Maternity Hospital and exclaimed:

“Bugger me!”

“Another sprog; another waxing gibbous moon!”

Collapsing back to her pillow, she reflected on 28 January 1945,the day her son John was born, when she had peered through the window of the Geraldine Maternity Hospital and observed the same lunar phenomenon.

A strange feeling of prescience came over her as she predicted that on a certain day, 62.23 years in the future, her son Peter would be reading this useless information on a weird piece of machinery called a Dell laptop computer which would have a picture on it labelled Firefox. Part of that picture would be labelled Wolfram Alpha, and the Wolfram section would contain certain information, most of which appeared totally unneccessary.

But it wouldn’t be all useless information: Mr Wolfram would also be telling Peter that on 2 March 1947, there had been “No known major notable events.”

Which  leads to obvious conclusion that, in the absence of any other notable event, the birth of one squalling brat in Dunedin was indeed a notable event and Wolfram Alpha had completely overlooked it on that occasion, three thousand, two hundred and forty-seven weeks previously.

How’s that for an ego boost?

I discovered a Firefox plugin that optionally puts Wolfram Alpha search results on the right hand side of the screen when you do a Google search. I’ll leave it there for a while.

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