The Black Box of Wolfram Alpha
19 May 2009
Biologist John Timmer of Ars Technica reviews Wolfram Alpha and has a some very important observations:
So, in essence, Wolfram’s asking you to outsource all the sanity-checking that should be done when obtaining information—does it come from a reliable source? Is it in keeping with other figures that are available? You’re just supposed to trust that the folks that populated the databases behind Alpha have done their job well. If they haven’t, it’s up to you to figure that out.
This is a major issue that needs to be fixed or the results will be of little more use than clicking “I feel lucky” on Google.
Wolfram Alpha remains an interesting approach to scientific data mining and input parsing. For now, however, I’ll stick with wikipedia, google and common sense (and books for deeper research). Computers are no match for knowledge explained by a human.