A Simple Question

An exciting new project caught my eye recently. The description from the site reads:

Wolfram|Alpha’s long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything. Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.

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.

So I asked the age-old simple Armenian question and this is what I received:

Ինչ կա չկա
Ինչ կա չկա

Let me ask in Armenian.

Ինչ կա չկա – Հայերեն
Ինչ կա չկա – Հայերեն

Looks like they had been expecting my question. It seems they have built a machine that answers most complex questions but fails at simple ones. Give it a try anyway, it could become your new favorite toy.

I couldn’t resist and tried Google which gave me its usual list of useless links that answer every other question but mine.

Ինչ կա չկա - Google
Ինչ կա չկա - Google

Technological innovation has a long way to go before it reaches any kind of maturity or saturation. We are still only just at the very beginning.


  1. legacy,

    Mathematica was one of the symbolic packages we used back in school, and most of the professors swear by it (and we swore at it).
    Seriously, amongst the symbolic-numerical software we were using, Mathematica probably had the most complete library of functions.
    So, I was intrigued when Wolfram launched Wolfram/Alpha earlier this year, and when I read their statement like the one you posted above, my first reaction was: babel-databases all over again…and the sheer audacity of the claim!

    But after playing around some on their ‘knowledge engine’, I have to say I was rather impressed with their ability to receive free-form input and return arguably useable results thus far.
    [The crux of obtaining a reasonable response to any query, of course lies in how the query is structured and even more important, the ‘suitability’ of the person/database/system to whom/which the query is posed]

    While Stephen Wolfram is no Hari Seldon, if Wolfram/Alpha somehow manages to eclipse Google, we may have a new nominee for the anti-C.


    [May I know what was the age-old question asked?]

  2. Don: I’m also very much impressed. It recognized my input in Armenian and told me in Armenian that it wasn’t able to support my language yet. The question I asked is hard to translate. “Inch” means “What”, “ka” means “there is” or “is there”, and “chka” means “there isn’t” or “isn’t there”. Maybe equivalent to “What’s up?” or “What’s new?” or “What’s going on in the [or your] world?” 🙂

    PS. Thanks for the music posts.

  3. I enter: “do aliens exist?”
    Wolfram answers: “Extraterrestrial Life: Development of this topic is under investigation.”

    I enter: “Does god exist?”
    Wolfram answer: “I’m sorry, but a poor computational knowledge engine, no matter how powerful, is not capable of providing a simple answer to that question.”

    I enter: “Where can I buy Superbowl tickets?”
    Wolfram answers: “Wolfram isn’t sure how to compute an answer from your input.”

    My conclusion: the shareholders of Google and the residents of The Vatican will get at least one more night of restful sleep.

  4. Rocky: They must be getting some strange questions. Yours are the more straightforward ones. It’s interesting how the machine does random walk projection of a stock’s price even for multiple stocks. Clicking on it a few times and seeing completely different depictions of the future I found very educational. Looks like it even takes into consideration the correlations. The machine that predicts the future changes it.

  5. LD: Thanks. That’s bizarre but interesting. On my first click it said AAPL & INTC were going to lose 80% of their value by 2011. I clicked “New Random Walk” and the results changed dramatically (to a profit from a loss.)

    Looks to me like this curious service is provided as a courtesy by your local “full-service” (and full commission) broker!

  6. LD,

    Great post and you can have fun asking sophistic questions. But as always, Rocky asks the best questions as he has an inquiring mind.


  7. Jeff: Working many hours lately with little time to do anything else but that’s not a good excuse not to indulge in writing a few words here and there. I have been reading whenever I find a few minutes. Thank you for visiting and reminding about the need to do something other than work.

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