Tuesday, June 8, 2010

WolframAlpha

WolframAlpha is a computational knowledge engine similar to Google. It is not a search engine but more of a fact engine that generates output by doing computations from its own internal knowledge base, instead of searching the web and returning links. For example, searching Google for “Denver” will result in a list of links to websites. However, a search of “population of Denver” in WolframAlpha provides with an immediate answer on WolframAlpha's site. In addition to the answer (City of Denver, population 598,707 - 2008 estimate), the site offers that Denver ranks 25th in population in the US and presents a graph showing population history, the metropolitan area population (2.552 million) and the population of nearby cities (Aurora - 319,057).

A search for a date will give results that include the time difference from today in years, months, weeks or days. It will also list observances for date including births of noted persons. The daylight information for that date is given telling the time of the sunrise and sunset and the duration of daylight as well as the state of the moon for that day. Results for a date, June 25, 1951 list an event listed for that day, "CBS becomes the first to broadcast television in color." A search for Brooklyn, NY yields not only the current population – population: 2.557 million people (2008) but also population growth: 0.4625%per year (2000-08); population density: 34723 people/mi (2000); annual deaths: 16533 people per year (2006) and annual births: 40492 people per year (2006).

Founder, Stephen Wolfram has found a way to take mathematical concepts and figure out a way to pull different types of data together and produce a rational result. He explains possible uses of the product in this video posted here.

For Legal Research, however, WolframAlpha is not yet ready according to a post at Three Geeks and Blog which reports that “legal” questions such as these did not yield results:

•Number of lawsuits filed against Exxon
•Patents held by IBM
•General Counsel of Wal-Mart
•Chairman of Skadden Arps
A NY Times article states "It is an early working version of a project that has been years in the making and will continue to evolve over years, if not decades. As such, there is much it cannot answer now." So perhaps, one day WolframAlpha can help law students understand the rule against perpetuities.

The two-part video is here:

video video


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