Wolfram Alpha

Published On 05/20/2009 Published On 05/20/2009

While Google is great for plenty of stuff, sometimes its scope is daunting: query "Size of Asia", and how can you not click on one of the 50,000 results featuring a certain Ms. Carrera? Revolutionizing the fact-finding game, Wolfram Alpha.

The brainchild of some dude who received his PhD from Caltech by 20, Wolfram's a "computational knowledge engine", not a search engine, meaning instead of mining the morass of questionable "facts" on the Web, it uses built-in models to compute answers to fact-based questions, basically making it an enormous calculator that can spell BOOBS, but do it right-side up. Endowed with over 10 trillion pieces of data and 50,000+ algorithms encompassing vast areas of human knowledge (science, math, etc), the initial focus is on quantitative information, meaning it can do everything from graph up complicated calculus equations, to pump out historical sports statistics, to map the duration/magnitude of the next total eclipse (4:30 sec/"epic" anytime you cue up Bonnie Tyler). Since info that can't be computed is curated from public data, you can plug in a business and get abbreviated filing info like net income, # of employees, P/E ratio, and track stock performance, even comparing daily returns to the S&P up to 10 years back; ask about any town, and you'll get population data, elevation, and current weather; input a historical date, and you'll not only get notable events, but also daylight information, and the time difference from that date to today broken down in myriad ways, because your birthday may be months off, but your 1472nd weekday is now!

The search acknowledges it's currently limited to hard facts, so don't bother asking anything subjective, but the goal's to constantly upload new info from the likes of reference libraries and handbooks -- but unfortunately for your initial query, not books that encourage the use of your hands.