New Features in Wolfram|Alpha: Year-End Update

Various authors, Wolfram Alpha, Dec 22, 2009
Commentary by Stephen Downes

What is the future for Wolfram Alpha? The developers write (in an email announcing this update) that "today's Wolfram|Alpha is the start of what we expect to be a project that spans decades." I can believe it. But how will it grow? I can't imagine they want it to always be updated manually; if it were me I would be trying to tie it into to data feeds. Similarly, as a reference service it is still difficult to use and unpredictable (for example, though it provides per capita data in general queries, it doesn't understand when you ask specifically for per capita data (notice the chart says $128.4 billion per capita, which is absurd)). Right now when I use it I feel like I'm holding a primitive information motor - it works (sort of) but there are not yet any cars or appliances to plug it into, nor any gas stations or electrical grid to power it.
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