Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wolfram Alpha

I tried Wolfram alpha for the first time today. I was pleased that it handled some mathematical queries without any special syntax. I asked Fourier transform of absolute value. It worked by I just tried it again and it timed out. Typing names of various chemicals was informative. Other information it gives was found to be inaccurate. For example it thinks The University of Manchester was founded in 1851. Take your pick from 1824 or 2004, but 1851 is just wrong. Source information is given, but it does not reference each fact separately so one cannot tell where they gone wrong. It seems they have used sources uncritcally without checking, or perhaps used out of date information (for example 1851 is probably listed as the founding date of the old Victoria University of Manchester, pre 2004). There is a feedback form but no reaction yet.

I also tried a fish Gnathonemus petersii. It got the common name wrong "Peter's elephantnose fish" instead of the correct "Peters' elephantnose fish". A look at the Latin name reveals that it is clearly named after Peters. A common mistake on the internet, but a glance at Wikipedia would have sorted them out!

So overall I am sure I will use it and it will develop. But without properly verifiable references it is less trustworthy than a well referenced Wikipedia article.


Blogger Billlion said...

It does have some funnies in. For example average air-speed velocity of an unladen european swallow as oppose to african.

Also The Answer to the Ultimate Question. Well it is a computation engine!

1:54 AM  
Anonymous Mike Croucher said...

Hi Bill

Do you think it will have much of an impact of the teaching of mathematics? The fact that it can give not only the answer but also all of the steps needed to get a result by hand in many cases is a bit of a game changer in my opinion.


5:30 AM  
Blogger Billlion said...

It might up to a certain level. generally you want to restrict access to symbolic algebra programs when teaching basic algebra and calculus as what they need is practice by hand. But even then I don't think its too much of a problem to check the answer with Alpha once you have had a good go by hand.

I can't see it having much effect on my 3rd year course on asymptotic series and perturbation methods. Can you?

2:02 PM  

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