Wolfram Alpha: First Impressions

A friend recently told me about the recent debut of a new search engine called Wolfram Alpha. I had heard about it a while back from some coworkers and heard about how Stephen Wolfram, the inventor of the system, was either a super-genius or a little bit crazy.

I hadn’t been excited about trying a new search engine since Google, so I figured I would try running it through its paces. The claim is that one should pose it questions in natural language and receive answers to those questions rather than links. So that’s the approach I tried.

The first question I asked it (and I don’t know why) was “How many calories are there in an egg mcmuffin?” I was very impressed by the first response. It not only told me, first, how many calories were in an egg mcmuffin. It then proceeded to give me the entire nutritional information and compare it to other foods on a variety of metrics! I was very very impressed.


The next thing I did was ask “How many people live in Silver Spring, Maryland?” It seemed to understand my question and it gave me an answer, but the answer was quite succinct. The thing about Silver Spring is that it’s not incorporated; it’s a census-designated place. There’s a lot of different ways to calculate that number and I’d love to have seen more of them and more details like with the first answer.

I started asking more mundane questions at this point; things that would be useful in my daily life like:

None of these questions were even understood by the knowledge engine, and no answer was attempted to be given. I kind of understand this; it may not be the kind of thing it’s meant for, but Google can provide answers for questions of this type (even if the answers are only the opinions of random people on the internet.)

So, in short, I am amazed by what it can do but it doesn’t do enough for it to be my go-to search engine yet. I will keep an eye on it. Let me know if you find anything really cool it can do!