You know, if computers ever take over the world, it’s not going to be through a super smart spaceship like HAL, or a global network like SkyNet, or even Asimov-defying robots. No, it will be the iPhone. Those little handheld gadgets, not even the most popular smart phones, by the way, have so many insane applications that they’re getting dangerous. They can control your bank account, fly military drones, and now they even have access to the data and calculation power of Wolfram Alpha. Built off of their API, the Wolfram Alpha iPhone App lets you find visual answers to computational and statistical questions. What’s the rainfall in India like? How do I mix cyanide in water to get a 3 molar solution? Now you, or your Apple overlord, can find these answers on the go.
Wolfram Alpha, though trailing in popularity since its debut this summer has continued to impress us with the range of its technical knowledge. Sure, for the casual user, finding the population of North Dakota is as easy in Wikipedia, Google, or Yahoo as it is in Wolfram Alpha. But what about the hyper tangent of three times pi? Or the rate at which GDP has changed in Belgium over the past 23 years? As an open resource, the internet is evolving. Yes, we’ll always be able to get celebrity gossip, but as WA and other technically impressive sites evolve, so too will the level of available expertise. If we choose to use it.
The Wolfram Alpha iPhone App runs almost exactly like the main site, with tweaked templates for size, and keyboard input. Similarly, the API that Wolfram released allows users to augment their own websites with Alpha knowledge without drastically altering the landscape of their page. This ease of access, both in the App and the API, could really renew interest in Wolfram Alpha. However, at a price tag of $50, I wonder if Wolfram is targeting their iPhone App to high-end technical users (engineers, scientists, psychologists, etc) rather than the general public.
Maybe it’s just bad marketing. As cool as WA may be, I don’t find myself using it very often at all. When I do, it’s often to play around rather than find desperately needed information. Still, I admire the technical prowess of the site, and there’s no doubt in my mind that at some point this sort of expansive knowledge and computational database will be necessary and popular. Maybe after Wolfram Alpha goes out of business, but what can you do? In the meantime, enjoy the API and try not to let your iPhone become sentient. Kill All Humans? Please tell me there’s not an App for that.
[photo credit: Wolfram Alpha]