Wolfram Alpha is amazing, but it has a fundamental flaw.

Wolfram Alpha is amazing. Go play with it now.

Some people really, really don't get it. They are frustrated that it isn't google, which of course it was never meant to be. If you're not sure what it is then I recommend the (overlong) intro video.

But basically, It's a data engine. A fact machine. It lets you pull and push and manipulate data.

For instance you could compare the mean wage of chiropractors vs journalists in seconds (topical!). Or do some maths. Or do lots of things.

It's some topical data about two professions.

And this is all the info your are given for your 'source'

It's finicky and has plenty of holes in it, but it's only just gone live and it is brilliant. I can't stress that enough.

Now on to why it sucks.

The cultural effects of a 'computational knowledge engine' that can both quantify and manipulate data is huge. But the ability for it to be misused is also huge. We all love wikipeida, but when journalists use it for their primary source of info it gets a little worrying. To offset that Wikipedia has a big list of references at the bottom of every page.

Rather than establish itself as an authority figure (despite the wishes of some of the more 'enthusiastic' admins) Wikipedia works hard to tell you how it knows something to be true, otherwise [citation needed] rears its head.

I don't get that same feeling from Wolfram Alpha. Firstly, the references are tucked away from view in a little pop up window rather than being an inherent part of the page. Secondly, the Primary source for everything I've tried so far is:

Wolfram|Alpha curated data, 2009

Which just isn't good enough. It is setting Alpha up to be an authority figure for data. But this isn't information that Wolfram et al. have discovered and published. This is information that Wolfram has collated.

Now, to be fair, 'background' sources are listed. And whilst they are most likely the true source of the data presented, no single study or report or finding is indicated to be where any specific fact came from. For example Alpha has decided that the UK produces 1.8 billion barrels of oil a day. Has it taken an average of the studies it looked at? Or has it weighted them? It doesn't tell me.

Every piece of data when fed into Alpha should have been tagged with details of where it came from. But it isn't. It's a mind boggling strange omission.

So much so that I can't help but feel this, may possibly, add weight to widespread opinion that Stephen Wolfram is a little bit, erm, arrogant. This letter that Richard Feynman (apparently) wrote to Stephen Wolfram is rather illuminating on the subject. The cynic in me whispers that Alpha wants to be your reference, not your intermediary.

Wolfram|Alpha is an amazing achievement, and one I will use an awful lot. (even if it is just to plot nonsense) Stephen Wolfram should be immensely proud of it.

But I can't help thinking how much more important Alpha would be as a proper research tool if it was a little bit more willing to explain where it learnt to be so clever.


22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Where you've written "admission" (4th paragraph from bottom), should that read "omission"?

Bill said...

Cheers! Fixed the typo.

I'm sure there are plenty more.

Upa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Upa said...

Lacking the references is of course a flaw.

Another one is that WolframAlpha will always have out-of-date information by design. It collects data from some external sources and tries to turn these data into something more complicated that just inverted index (as in Google case). This takes time and needs always be adjusted to changing formats of sources. In two words - will never work real-time.

HJ said...

That's 5 words.

Lave said...

I don't think anyone cares about it not working real time. Collating data in a way that allows it to be manipulated takes time, but allows you to do far more with it than you can otherwise.

Jhon said...

This takes time and needs always be adjusted to changing formats of sources.

--
Jhon
You cannot go wrong on the best security systems

Lin Huang said...

caihuanglin20150603
michael kors outlet online
kobe shoes
michael kors outlet
michael kors outlet
jordan 11s
michael kors outlet online sale
jordan concords
jordan 3
football jerseys
hollister
michael kors outlet
oakley sunglasses outlet
lebron james shoes
christian louboutin
true religion
michael kors
ralph lauren outlet
www.louisvuitton.com
michael kors outlet online
michael kors outlet
hollister clothing
coach outlet
hollister co
michael kors handbags
hollister outlet
abercrombie store
louis vuitton outlet
kate spade outlet
louis vuitton outlet
toms shoes
burberry outlet online
louis vuitton outlet stores
oakley sunglasses wholesale
coach factory outlet
abercrombie & fitch
polo ralph lauren
michael kors outlet
louis vuitton

Wenhao Guo said...

new orleans saints jerseys
ralph lauren uk
nike air max uk
toms shoes
soccer jerseys
michael kors handbags
coach outlet canada
vans shoes
cheap mlb jerseys
michael kors uk
real madrid jersey
swarovski jewelry
atlanta falcons jersey
tory burch outlet online
louis vuitton uk
dallas cowboys jersey
the north face clearance
cheap nike shoes
fred perry sale
marc jacobs outlet
true religion jeans
true religion jeans
ray ban sunglasses
burberry outlet online, http://www.burberryoutletonlinestore.com.co
mcm bags
burberry outlet
oakley sunglasses
ray ban wayfarer
true religion jeans, http://www.truereligionjeansoutlet.com
vibram fivefingers
lacoste polo shirts
minnesota vikings jerseys
nike free 5.0
new york giants jerseys
kate spade outlet
true religion outlet, http://www.truereligionoutletstore.us.com
dansko outlet
cheap jordans
kate spade outlet
herve leger
achang0805

chenlina said...

chenlina20150904
louis vuitton handbags
nike roshe run
nike roshe runs
"hollister.com
"
ray ban sunglasses
ray ban sunglass
louis vuitton
mont blanc
kate spade handbags
celine
michael kors handbags
new jordans
ray-ban aviator
michael kors bag
cheap jerseys
ray ban glasses
michael kors outlet
nike trainers
michael kors handbags
michael kors outlet online
uggs on sale
aviator sunglasses
louis vuitton outlet
fitflops sale
tods outlet
coach handags
nike huarache white
cheap air max
louis vuitton handbags
michael kors outlet online
michael kors handbags
ray ban glasses
louis vuitton handbags
louis vuitton outlet
mcm outlet
jordan 4 toro
tory burch flats
gucci shoes
coach factorty outlet
jordan retro 4

驴小布 said...

20151104 junda
nike uk
mulberry bags
ray ban
michael kors outlet online
kate spade handbags
hermes belt
jordan retro 3
true religion outlet
coach outlet
nike air max uk
ugg boots
adidas trainers
michael kors outlet
nike air jordan
nike outlet
hollister uk
michael kors
new balance outlet
ugg boots
michael kors handbags
mont blanc pens
toms outlet store
cheap oakley sunglasses
longchamp outlet
louis vuitton outlet
louis vuitton handbags
canada gooses outlet
adidas superstars
ray ban sunglasses
pandora jewelry
gucci borse
ed hardy outlet
michael kors
coach factory outlet
juicy couture
michael kors handbags
toms outlet
gucci outlet
coach outlet
louis vuitton

chenlina said...

chenlina20151126
michael kors outlet
toms outlet
fake oakley sunglasses
air force 1
christian louboutin shoes
pandora jewelry
cheap oakley sunglasses
coach outlet store online
mont blanc pens
celine outlet
cheap nfl jerseys
chanel bags
canada goose
jordan 11
ugg clearance
oakley sunglasses
michael kors outlet
uggs on sale
uggs outlet
the north face outlet
timberland outlet
michael kors outlet online
michaek kors outlet
michael kors handbags
ugg boots on sale
tory burch outlet
toms shoes
abercrombie and fitch new york
cheap jordan shoes
canada goose outlet
vans shoes sale
air max 95
michael kors outlet online
cheap ugg boots
adidas superstars
soccer shoes
ugg sale
canada goose jackets
ralph lauren uk
ugg boots
as

Qing Cai said...

roshe run
michael kors uk
coach outlet
michael kors factory outlet
the north face uk
mulberry outlet
designer handbags
true religion jeans
true religion jeans
ray ban sunglasses
michael kors handbags
true religion outlet
oakley sunglasses
barbour coats
ferragamo shoes
ralph lauren outlet
ferragamo outlet
cheap mlb jerseys
polo ralph lauren
cheap snapbacks
karen millen dresses
michael kors outlet
ralph lauren shirts
longchamp outlet
ugg boots
beats headphones
oakley outlet
hermes birkin
longchamp outlet
gucci
futbol baratas
ferragamo outlet
kobe shoes
lacoste polo shirts
jordan shoes
coach outlet online
tory burch shoes
ugg boots
ghd hair straighteners
ralph lauren uk
cai20151201

Pnane Weg said...

coach sale
cheap nfl
salomon boots
hermes birkin bag
michael kors bags on sale
coach factory outlet online
kobe bryant shoes
burberry outlet
new balance shoes
coach factory outlet online
Michael Kors Outlet Online
nike air max shoes
michael kors handbags
jordan 6
coach store
jordan retro 3
jordan 14
toms outlet factory
abercrombie coupon
fitflop outlet
fendi sale
ugg factory outlet
timberland
toms outlet factory
coach outlet stores
Coach Outlet Online
ugg boots
hermes belt
jordan 11 concord
new balance outlet store
kate spade outlet
The North Face Clearance
newest jordans
kobe bryant shoes
jordan shoes for women
michael kors outlet
coach purse
toms outlet
hermes bag
qwe1.20

tyler durden said...


obat gonore herbal
obat khusus untuk kutil di kemaluan
obat herbal untuk penyakit sipilis raja singa
nama obat untuk penyakit raja singa
cara mengobati penyakit kelamin raja singa
harga obat herbal untuk kutil di sekitar kemaluan
obat untuk penyakit kelamin gonore sipilis raja singa
obat kutil di kemaluan yang alami
pengobatan herbal untuk kutil di kelamin

Xiaozhengm 520 said...

2016-4-5 xiaozhengm
coach outlet
nike blazers shoes
gucci outlet
ray ban sunglasses
coach outlet online
tory burch outlet online
michael kors uk
gucci handbags
oakley sunglasses wholesale
christian louboutin shoes
longchamp outlet
nike free 5.0
ugg sale
coach outlet store online
louis vuitton
michael kors outlet
louis vuitton outlet stores
air max 90
louis vuitton outlet
nike huarache
louis vuitton outlet
oakley outlet
oakley sunglasses
tory burch shoes
air max 95
ray ban sunglasses outlet
louis vuitton handbags
ray ban sunglasses uk
true religion jeans
coach factory outlet
michael kors outlet
michael kors outlet clearance
louis vuitton
the north face outlet
insanity workout
oakley sunglasses outlet
ray ban sunglasses
replica watches
rolex watches
michael kors handbags

Zhenhong Bao said...

ferragamo shoes
cheap jordan shoes
babyliss pro
coach outlet online
chaussure louboutin
mulberry outlet store
true religion outlet
cheap nhl jerseys
air max 90
cheap ray ban sunglasses
louis vuitton outlet online
cheap mlb jerseys
ray-ban sunglasses
louis vuitton outlet stores
ray ban sunglasses
coach outlet online
longchamp handbags
reebok shoes
michael kors uk outlet
hollister uk
michael kors factory outlet
omega outlet
soccer jerseys
michael kors handbags
rolex watches
swarovski crystal
coach outlet
mulberry handbags sale
michael kors outlet clearance
swarovski crystal
longchamp outlet online
mulberry outlet
adidas outlet
polo ralph lauren
mulberry handbags
20160520zhenhong

Zhenhong Bao said...

mulberry handbags
jordan shoes
fitflops sale
prada outlet
michael kors outlet
michael kors outlet online
prada sunglasses
longchamp pliage
tiffany jewelry
cheap nfl jersey
coach outlet
ferragamo shoes sale
toms outlet store
coach outlet
ray-ban sunglasses
louis vuitton bags
michael kors outlet online
replica watches
ray ban sunglasses
tory burch outlet
true religion jeans
police sunglasses
nfl jerseys
toms shoes
swarovski outlet
ralph lauren polo
true religion outlet
cheap snapbacks
fitflops sale clearance
tory burch outlet
christian louboutin uk
lebron shoes
true religion jeans
beats by dr dre
ray ban sunglasses sale
20160520zhenhong

Zheng junxai5 said...


zhengjx20160601
vans sneakers
coach outlet store online clearances
toms shoes outlet online
vans outlet
longchamp outlet
coach outlet
louis vuitton outlet online
true religion outlet
louis vuitton
coach outlet
ladies cartier watches
louis vuitton handbags
rolex watches
true religion jeans
michael kors outlet clearance
christian louboutin sale clearance
ray ban sunglasses outlet
insanity workout
retro 11
rolex watches
jordan retro 11
beats by dre outlet
louis vuitton outlet
kate spade outlet
coach outlet online
louboutin shoes
michael kors outlet
adidas superstar shoes
ralph lauren outlet
fitflops
retro jordans 13
cheap oakley sunglasses
coach outlet
replica watches
longchamp handbags
louis vuitton outlet stores
coach outlet online
air jordan 4
tods outlet store
oakley canada

John said...

omega seamaster
yeezy boost 350 white
the north face outlet
nike air max
fitflops sale clearance
cheap oakley sunglasses
prada outlet
ray ban sunglasses
louis vuitton outlet
nike huarache black
coach outlet online
canada goose jackets
lacoste outlet
buy red bottoms
true religion uk
ray ban sunglasses
fitflop uk
versace sunglasses
hollister kids
birkenstock uk
discount oakley sunglasses
polo ralph lauren outlet online
nike air max
michael kors outlet clearance
reebok shoes
nike free runs
kate spade bags
ugg outlet
oakley sunglasses wholesale
running shoes
converse shoes
hermes belt
adidas shoes uk
louis vuitton pas cher
birkenstock shoes
adidas superstar
coach outlet store
kate spade outlet
ralph lauren pas cher
2016613yuanyuan

Gege Dai said...

ray-ban sunglasses
ugg boots on sale
versace sunglasses on sale
rolex watches for sale
ralph lauren polo shirts
ralph lauren outlet
vans outlet
fitflops uk
cheap jordan shoes
mulberry handbags sale
pandora jewelry
cheap nfl jerseys
abercrombie outlet
air max 90
cheap nike shoes sale
coach outlet online
mizuno shoes
louis vuitton outlet
michael kors online outlet
ugg outlet uk
oakley sunglasses wholesale
true religion jeans
oakley sunglasses
ugg boots
true religion jeans
coach outlet
nike trainers uk
vans shoes
prada sunglasses for women
mulberry handbags
true religion jeans
nike huarache
lululemon outlet
nike uk store
uggs outlet
czq20160728

chenlina said...

louis vuitton outlet stores
tods outlet
ray ban sunglasses outlet
christian louboutin shoes
seattle seahawks jerseys
coach canada
golden state warriors jerseys
michael kors handbags
michael kors outlet
replica watches
ray ban sunglasses
nike roshe flyknit
ed hardy clothing
oakley sunglasses
christian louboutin shoes
rolex submariner watches
moncler uk
adidas shoes
lebron james shoes
true religion outlet
louis vuitton
coach factory online
louis vuitton uk
gucci handbags
timberland outlet
moncler pas cher
true religion outlet
louis vuitton outlet
canada goose jackets
north face outlet
louis vuitton outlet
air jordans
true religion outlet
louis vuitton handbags
uggs on sale
cheap oakley sunglasses
coach outlet
ugg boots
ray ban sunglasses
minnesota vikings jerseys
chenlina20160903