Wolfram Alpha — not yet ready for church work

I knew this was going to be a stretch, but if I was going to take the new so-called “Google challenger” Wolfram Alpha seriously, it would have to get past its comfort zone of mathematical and financial data. And so far, the new “computational knowledge engine” — a term that’s a bit steampunk to not have depictions of gears or giant squid — doesn’t seem it can. (Neither for church workers or government transparency folk.)

Yes, like other geeks I was entranced by the webcast demo. I was there at 8pm last night, watching the service get born, with all the bumps and jolts that entails. And Gina Trapani — who is a reliable writer in such matters — has some fun examples of searches.

But here are the ones I tried that failed:

  • unitarian universalists usa
  • church buildings in maine
  • harry emerson fosdick quotations
  • flight boston salt lake city
  • fidelity mutual fund
  • protestants in romania
  • 35 increasing 15% per year [I was thinking of the “compound interest” of a rapidly growing family-sized church]

Some searches, related to dates, were more helpful:

  • 3/25/1825 returned facts about the day; it was 67,257 days ago.
  • 9/15/2009 is 17 weeks, 3 days hence, is Software Freedom Day, Britain’s Prince Harry’s 25th birthday and Ramadan 25, 1430 in the Islamic calendar.
  • BOS IAD correctly identified the airports, and measured the distance between them, but said nothing about flights.
  • distance boston salt lake city, likewise, measured the distance.

The only really useful test search — file under self-care — was for “hamburger and fries”, which gave me a generic calorie count with a one-click option for two fast food restaurants’ offerings. The search for great rhombicosidodecahedron is pretty amazing and perhaps useful if your church building is a later-generation geodesic dome. But Google has little to worry about — yet.

(For the political watchers, there’s nothing for bills and “pelosi” gave the House Speaker’s barest biographical information. OpenCongress.org has nothing to worry about either.)

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