Wolfram Alpha

Watching these into to Wolfram Alpha videos (for example) give me a certain arousal that I have experienced only a handful of times.  The first time was when I discovered the APL prompt hidden inside the Dartmouth Basic CLI on the Teletype in high school.  Then there was Focal on the PDP-12 which let you draw charts on the machine’s CRT.  Latter there was discovering that I could run Mathematica at MIT over the Arpanet from CMU.  And, of course, the Lisp Machine.  I don’t know what it is about these systems that gets me excited.  R, Prolog, Erlang, Emacs all got close but never managed to trigger this curious arousal for me.

Wolfram Alpha is a lovely example of what is now possible.  The Lisp Machine was so very similar, particularly with its UI, to what that demos is showing.  But what’s new is the amount of data and algorithms we can now bring to bear.  Where are the engineering stations that treat the entire web’s as a reasonably well-organized dataset?  That is/was the RDF fantasy.  It’s nice to see it starting to pop-up up.

Of course it’s unlikely that I’d invest a lot in climbing the learning curve of a system like this, given that it’s proprietary.

Update: Article in Slate, and a classic on Wolfram’s ego and many other flaws.

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