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.
Wolfram|Alpha is an ambitious, long-term intellectual endeavor that we intend will deliver increasing capabilities over the years and decades to come. With a world-class team and participation from top outside experts in countless fields, our goal is to create something that will stand as a major milestone of 21st century intellectual achievement.
That it should be possible to build Wolfram|Alpha as it exists today in the first decade of the 21st century was far from obvious. And yet there is much more to come.
As of now, Wolfram|Alpha contains 10+ trillion of pieces of data, 50,000+ types of algorithms and models, and linguistic capabilities for 1000+ domains. Built with Mathematica—which is itself the result of more than 20 years of development at Wolfram Research—Wolfram|Alpha’s core code base now exceeds 5 million lines of symbolic Mathematica code. Running on supercomputer-class compute clusters, Wolfram|Alpha makes extensive use of the latest generation of web and parallel computing technologies, including webMathematica and gridMathematica.
Wolfram|Alpha’s knowledge base and capabilities already span a great many domains, and its underlying framework has the power and flexibility to support ready extension to essentially any domain that is based on systematic knowledge.
The universe of potentially computable knowledge is, however, almost endless, and in creating Wolfram|Alpha as it is today, we needed to start somewhere. Our approach so far has been to emphasize domains where computation has traditionally had a more significant role. As we have developed Wolfram|Alpha, we have in effect been systematically covering the content areas of reference libraries and handbooks. In going forward, we plan broader and deeper coverage, both of traditionally scientific, technical, economic, and otherwise quantitative knowledge, and of more everyday, popular, and cultural knowledge.
Wolfram|Alpha’s ability to understand free-form input is based on algorithms that are informed by our analysis of linguistic usage in large volumes of material on the web and elsewhere. As the usage of Wolfram|Alpha grows, we will capture a whole new level of linguistic data, which will allow us to greatly enhance Wolfram|Alpha’s linguistic capabilities.
Today’s Wolfram|Alpha is just the beginning. We have ambitious plans, for data, for computation, for linguistics, for presentation, and more. As we go forward, we’ll be discussing what we’re doing on the Wolfram|Alpha Blog, and we encourage suggestions and participation, especially through the Wolfram|Alpha Community.
Wolfram|Alpha is built on solid foundations. And as we go forward, we see more and more that can be made computable using the basic paradigms of Wolfram|Alpha—and a faster and faster path for development as we leverage the broad capabilities already in place.
Wolfram|Alpha was made possible in part by the achievements of Mathematica and A New Kind of Science (NKS). In their different ways, both of these point to far-reaching future opportunities for Wolfram|Alpha—whether a radically new kind of programming or the systematic automation of invention and discovery.
Wolfram|Alpha is being introduced first in the form of the wolframalpha.com website. But Wolfram|Alpha is really a technology and a platform that can be used and presented in many different ways. Among short-term plans are developer APIs, professional and corporate versions, custom versions for internal data, connections with other forms of content, and deployment on emerging mobile and other platforms.
History & Background
The quest to make knowledge computable has a long and distinguished history. Indeed, when computers were first imagined, it was almost taken for granted that they would eventually have the kinds of question-answering capabilities that we now begin to see in Wolfram|Alpha.
What has now made Wolfram|Alpha possible today is a somewhat unique set of circumstances—and the singular vision of Stephen Wolfram.
For the first time in history, we have computers that are powerful enough to support the capabilities of Wolfram|Alpha, and we have the web as a broad-based means of delivery. But this technology alone was not enough to make Wolfram|Alpha possible.
What was needed were also two developments that have been driven by Stephen Wolfram over the course of nearly 30 years.
The first was Mathematica—the system in which all of Wolfram|Alpha is implemented. Mathematica has three crucial roles in Wolfram|Alpha. First, its very general symbolic language provides the framework in which all the diverse knowledge of Wolfram|Alpha is represented, and all its capabilities are implemented. Second, Mathematica‘s vast web of built-in algorithms provides the computational foundation that makes it even conceivably practical to implement the methods and models of so many fields. And finally, the strength of Mathematica as a software engineering and deployment platform makes it possible to take the technical achievements of Wolfram|Alpha and deliver them broadly and robustly.
Beyond Mathematica, another key to Wolfram|Alpha was NKS. Many specific ideas from NKS—particularly related to algorithms discovered by exploring the computational universe—are used in the implementation of Wolfram|Alpha. But still more important is that the very paradigm of NKS was crucial in imagining that Wolfram|Alpha might be possible.
Wolfram|Alpha represents a substantial technical and intellectual achievement. But to build it required not just unique technology and ideas, but also the experience of 20 years of long-term R&D and ongoing development of robust technology at Wolfram Research. Wolfram|Alpha’s world-class team draws from many fields and disciplines, and has unique access to experts across the globe. But what ultimately made Wolfram|Alpha possible was a singular commitment to the goal of making all the world’s systematic knowledge computable.