Wolfram Alpha, which first debuted in 2009, is often mistaken for a search engine but it’s not one. It’s billed most places as an answer engine. Rather than scanning the entirety of the web for pages that may address a particular question, it answers a factual question by retrieving and interpreting data from its own storehouse of knowledge. It’s been around for a couple of years. It’s no Siri, either. It won’t keep your appointments or pick a movie or send flowers to Mother. It’s for fact based research and information and for that, it works pretty well.
The next stage of the product premieres tomorrow and will be available for $5 a month or $3 a month for students.
The new version handles data and images. In a recent demonstration, Dr. Wolfram, using his computer mouse, dragged in a table of the gross domestic product figures for France for 1961 to 2010, and Wolfram Alpha produced on the Web page a color-coded bar chart, which could be downloaded in different document formats. He put in a table of campaign contributions to politicians over several years, and Wolfram Alpha generated a chart and brief summary, saying that House members received less on average than senators.
Dr. Wolfram dragged in a 3-D image and after a few seconds it rendered the image — a guitar — and reported the number of polygons (2,253), among other characteristics.