Feeds

Wolfram Alpha - a new kind of Fail

Welcome to the internet, Stephen

Boost IT visibility and business value

Check out the nerd appeal

Clearly, there wasn't such a hype about re-published data. Alpha can do some nifty nerd shit too. Check this out:

Wolfram Equation

I put "ln(x^2 + y^2)" into Alpha, and out came a couple of graphs, and a host of other information about this expression. I get the roots, Taylor series expansion, derivative, integral, and a few other representations. Hear that? It's the sound of a million college calculus students spinning up Alpha on their iPhones during a midterm. Okay, so Wolfram has cornered an area of the market that doesn't have any drive to succeed or any money. Match, set, point.

This mathematical victory actually gave me hope that Alpha might be able to do something useful for me. As an engineer, I've run across a few instances where I need a way to do some faster math in my code. For example, there's a way of computing an inverse square root called the fast inverse square root. It's been mistakenly attributed to Id Software's John Carmack, (who, by the way, is a genuine genius and doesn't need to self-publish a book to prove it to himself), and it uses Newton's method to compute an approximation of the inverse square root using integer operations, which is way faster than using floating point operations. Being a good love child of math and computer science, maybe Alpha has some information on it.

Nope, no dice. "Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input." Ah yes, the chorus of mediocrity. Funny, though. There's a good Wikipedia page on this algorithm.

What about just "square root"?

Wolfram Square Root

Is this a serious attempt at anything? Thanks for that, Dr. Science.

All of these strikeouts aside, my absolute favorite part about Alpha is the result you get when you search it for itself:

Wolfram on Wolfram

This guy either got too many wedgies or not enough wedgies as a child.

Stephen Wolfram's arrogance fuels his belief that he can make money in the consumer web space by applying raw intelligence. Granted, there is a lot of good engineering behind Alpha, but having the best engineers in the world doesn't mean that your product is going to be a winner. Alpha is trying to win page views in a space where Twitter has proven that your average user's attention span maxes out at 140 characters. It's times like this where the internet's abundant anti-intellectualism actually does some good for the world. Cutting down Wolfram-sized ego is worth a thousand 4chans.

Like any web product, it's unclear what Alpha's business plan is. Are they going to serve ads against these search results? Are they going to charge for usage? Is it a ploy to sell more copies of Mathematica? If it really is as advanced as Wolfram makes it out to be, then there has been significant capital expenditure in developing it. You're not going to beat Google at ads, no matter how smart you think you are. People aren't going to pay for this service, at least not enough to turn a profit. The justice of fail is swift and decisive.

Welcome to the internet, Stephen. It's a New Kind of Market. Clearly none of us are intelligent enough to understand the sheer brilliance behind your idea. That face you see us making is dumbstruck awe, no matter how much you think it looks like contempt. Really. ®

Ted Dziuba is a co-founder at Milo.com You can read his regular Reg column, Fail and You, every other Monday.

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
The Return of BSOD: Does ANYONE trust Microsoft patches?
Sysadmins, you're either fighting fires or seen as incompetents now
Linux turns 23 and Linus Torvalds celebrates as only he can
No, not with swearing, but by controlling the release cycle
Why has the web gone to hell? Market chaos and HUMAN NATURE
Tim Berners-Lee isn't happy, but we should be
China hopes home-grown OS will oust Microsoft
Doesn't much like Apple or Google, either
Apple promises to lift Curse of the Drained iPhone 5 Battery
Have you tried turning it off and...? Never mind, here's a replacement
Sin COS to tan Windows? Chinese operating system to debut in autumn – report
Development alliance working on desktop, mobe software
Eat up Martha! Microsoft slings handwriting recog into OneNote on Android
Freehand input on non-Windows kit for the first time
Linux kernel devs made to finger their dongles before contributing code
Two-factor auth enabled for Kernel.org repositories
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Scale data protection with your virtual environment
To scale at the rate of virtualization growth, data protection solutions need to adopt new capabilities and simplify current features.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?