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Wolfram Alpha: Not Quite Prime-Time

The day I was born in Detroit, Michigan, the sun rose at 5:54 a.m. and it later set at 7:12 p.m. for a daylight duration of 13 hours and 18 minutes. There was a waning crescent moon that night over a city of some 1.85 million souls, which is roughly a million more than live there now. The temperature looks to have been in the high forties that day.

I learned all of this trivia courtesy of the new "computational knowledge engine" Wolfram Alpha, which launched this weekend to great hype and with even greater potential. In trying to try out this new type of search engine, I followed the site's examples ("enter any date," and "enter any town.")

And while W.A. dutifully returned the information cited above, the next dozen queries I tried led to nothing very useful. It appears that the alpha version of this engine is best at math and science topics; as an example, enter your birthdate and find out how many days you've been alive so far.

Data analysis and semantic search should be attractive to researchers, journalists, and geeks in general, but I find W.A.'s results a bit difficult to evaluate from a credibility standpoint. There is no source material immediately visible, and no list of results to compare and contrast, as we have gotten used to doing with Google.

Now, I realize these are very early days for this product, but I'd have to recommend that unless you have a bunch of free time on your hands for experimentation, W.A. probably is not yet going to be very useful to you. Although I admit that it was pretty cool to revisit my first day on earth!

Still, the guys over at Google won't have much to worry about from W.A., unless or until it can vastly expand the volume of data it accesses and interprets.

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