Frequently Asked Questions

Context & History

How does Wolfram|Alpha compare to search engines?

Search engines give you links to pages that exist on the web. Wolfram|Alpha computes answers to specific questions using its built-in knowledge base and algorithms.

How does Wolfram|Alpha compare to Wikipedia?

Wikipedia gives you pages of narrative about topics. Wolfram|Alpha computes answers to specific questions you ask, just giving facts, not narrative. Wolfram|Alpha often includes sidebar links to Wikipedia.

What is the closest precursor to Wolfram|Alpha?

In concept, perhaps Leibniz's characteristica universalis from the late 1600s—or the science-fiction computers of the 1960s. Technologically, many pieces of Wolfram|Alpha have precursors, but the ambitious scope of the whole project is believed to be unique.

Does Wolfram|Alpha use artificial intelligence?

Not in a traditional sense. Wolfram|Alpha isn't mainly based on emulating human reasoning. Instead it uses powerful methods from science and algorithmic computation to get directly to answers.

Is Wolfram|Alpha an artificial intelligence?

It's much more an engineered artifact than a humanlike artificial intelligence. Some of what it does—especially in language understanding—may be similar to what humans do. But its primary objective is to do directed computations, not to act as a general intelligence.

Does Wolfram|Alpha use semantic web technology?

Not directly. Wolfram|Alpha has its own internal knowledge base, with its own extensive internal semantics and ontology.

Does Wolfram|Alpha use natural language processing (NLP)?

Wolfram|Alpha introduces many new methods for understanding linguistic inputs. Mostly they're unlike traditional NLP, not least because Wolfram|Alpha has to deal with linguistic fragments rather than full grammatical sentences.

Can Wolfram|Alpha discover new facts?

Whenever it does new computations, it's effectively deriving new facts. At present, it always uses established scientific or other models as the basis for its computations. But using NKS it'll probably one day be possible for Wolfram|Alpha to discover new models too.

What is the theoretical foundation of Wolfram|Alpha?

Wolfram|Alpha attempts to synthesize all forms of knowledge that can be made computable—and uses methodology from all of them. A key general element is the concept of symbolic computation—inherited from the Mathematica system that underlies Wolfram|Alpha.

How does Wolfram|Alpha relate to NKS (Wolfram's A New Kind of Science)?

Wolfram|Alpha makes both conceptual and practical use of the NKS idea of generating rich, complex behavior from simple underlying rules. In many ways, Wolfram|Alpha is the first "killer app" for NKS (see Stephen Wolfram's blog post).

How does Wolfram|Alpha relate to the MathWorld website?

Wolfram|Alpha includes a large fraction of the systematic knowledge in MathWorld, adapted into fully computable form. Wolfram|Alpha gives sidebar links to MathWorld when appropriate.

How does Wolfram|Alpha relate to the Wolfram Functions Site?

Wolfram|Alpha provides immediate algorithmic access to all of the over 300,000 formulas in the Wolfram Functions Site. Wolfram|Alpha also gives links to the Wolfram Functions Site.

Who built Wolfram|Alpha?

An eclectic team led by Stephen Wolfram. For most of the pre-launch development period, the team had fewer than 100 members. The team includes experts in many fields and domains. As of May 2009, the single largest cluster of individuals on the team with similar backgrounds is 17 physics PhDs.

How long did it take to build Wolfram|Alpha?

The Mathematica foundations that lie beneath Wolfram|Alpha were started in 1986. The full Wolfram|Alpha project started in 2005.