Researching for a Novel Using Wolfram Alpha


There is a thinking beast evolving before our eyes on the internet, and its name is Wolfram Alpha.  It is a search engine that is much more than a search engine, more of an intuitive algorithm machine with one of its goals being “to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone.”  It is probably the closest thing to an artificial intelligence with the sole purpose of finding information for the user.  This algorithm/search engine could possibly make Google obsolete one day.  For more, watch this short video from the creator:

I use this algorithm for research when writing a novel because it provides easy to read data at a glance that can then be incorporated into the post-apocalyptic world of my novel.  Some examples:

  • I use it to find out about cities I have not physically visited or am not familiar.  For example, if I enter “infrastructure of Jerusalem Israel”, I get loads of technical information about the city which include much more information about that city than any map can produce.  The most useful for me would be weather history, nearby landmarks, nearby cities, and nearby features like the Al Wehda Dam.  If I click on that I get extremely detailed information about the dam.
  • I use it to predict possible catastrophic events.  Remember that Wolfram Alpha is not a crystal ball, but a computational engine.  It currently finds things based on mathematical algorithms.  (Their website claims that it will one day be able to write a research paper for you, and then I’ll be out of a job).  If I enter the terms “earth impact craters” I get a wonderful tool to determine how big and how devastating a meteor impact would be.  I can even change the variables in the first box beneath the entry line for a really devastating meteor impact.  If I type in “earthquake effects” and then adjust how far away I would be from the impact zone, I can determine the magnitude of earthquake I would feel from the result of the asteroid slamming into the earth.
  • I use it for writing.  It can instantly give me a word’s definition, synonyms, antonyms, and hyphenation.  It can even tell me how many pages my book will be based on word count.  The coolest thing it provides is a graphical representation of synonyms of a chosen word.  For example, if I enter Stephanie Meyer’s favorite word “glorious” I will  find five possible synonyms for that word.  On the same page I will find several definitions, pronunciation, word frequency in history, antonyms, words it rhymes with  and several other topics about the word.  You can even find out how many words end with “ation” or “ment”.  Poets will find it a refreshing tool for rhyming, I suppose.

Drawbacks:

  • In order to fully use Wolfram Alpha, one must buy the app on their phone for $3.99 or  pay $4.99 a month.
  • It is not a crystal ball.  It will not predict information, only compute it.

Will it replace Google?  The jury is out on that one.  I personally feel that it could possibly overtake Google as a search engine if it were free to the public like Google, but until Mr. Wolfram wants to do that, I suppose it will be simply a nice tool for us to use.

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