Wolfram Alpha: don’t ask the wrong questions

I’ve had a go at the Wolfram Alpha ‘knowledge engine’ preview.

Sadly, in my experience, it’s a bit disappointing: US-centric and effective only in specific, limited domains.

It gave no results for many of my queries, for example:

  • ‘What is the population of Adelaide’ (capital of South Australia)
  • ‘Tim Winton prizes’ (Australian writer)
  • ‘where is Kapunda’ (town in South Australia — misinterpreted as an animal, kakunda)
  • ‘where is Wandsworth, London’ (Wandsworth is a London borough — gives a ‘did you mean wadsworth’ response)
  • ‘why is DAB radio delayed’ (and variations — ‘Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input’)

Alpha is a great project with a lot of potential — to provide well presented, accurate answers to questions asked in natural language.

But they better be quick or the world — or Google — will move on.

About Sam Dutton

I am a Developer Advocate for Google Chrome. I grew up in rural South Australia, went to university in Sydney, and have lived since 1986 in London, England. Twitter: @SW12
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4 Responses to Wolfram Alpha: don’t ask the wrong questions

  1. Ave says:

    Of course google has no problem!

    q: ‘What is the population of Adelaide’
    a: Adelaide — Population: 1,158,259 (2007) (5th)

    q: Tim Winton prizes
    a: Tim Winton in line for a fourth Miles Franklin prize | Books …

    q: where is Kapunda
    a: [ link to google maps for kapunda ]

    NLP – why bother?

    • samdutton says:

      It’s not clear what Alpha is offering.

      Is it just Ask Jeeves with a more expensive education — or what?

      With Google you know what to expect.

  2. Paul Irish says:

    FWIW, WA now answers all these questions (save the last one) with a legit and topical answer now. 🙂

    • Sam Dutton says:

      Hi Paul — you’re right — the responses are much improved since two years ago.

      Still nothing useful for ‘Tim Winton prizes’ — which works pretty well with Google and Bing.

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