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Wolfram|Alpha (also styled WolframAlpha) is a computational knowledge engine or answer engine developed by Wolfram|Alpha LLC, a subsidiary of Wolfram Research. It is an online service that answers factual queries directly by computing the answer from externally sourced "curated data", rather than providing a list of documents or web pages that might contain the answer, as a search engine might.
Users submit queries and computation requests via a text field. Wolfram|Alpha then computes answers and relevant visualizations from a knowledge base of curated, structured data that come from other sites and books. The site "use[s] a portfolio of automated and manual methods, including statistics, visualization, source cross-checking, and expert review." The curated data makes Alpha different from semantic search engines, which index a large number of answers and then try to match the question to one.
Wolfram|Alpha can only provide robust query results based on computational facts, not queries on the social sciences, cultural studies or even many questions about history where responses require more subtlety and complexity. It is able to respond to particularly phrased natural language fact-based questions such as "Where was Mary Robinson born?" or more complex questions such as "How old was Queen Elizabeth II in 1974?" It displays its "Input interpretation" of such a question, using standardized phrases such as "age | of Queen Elizabeth II (royalty) | in 1974", the answer of which is "Age at start of 1974: 47 years", and a biography link. Wolfram|Alpha does not answer queries which require a narrative response such as "What is the difference between the Julian and the Gregorian calendars?" but will answer factual or computational questions such as "June 1 in Julian calendar".
Mathematical symbolism can be parsed by the engine, which typically responds with more than the numerical results. For example, "lim(x->0) (sin x)/x" yields the correct limiting value of 1, as well as a plot, up to 235 terms (as of 2013[update]) of the Taylor series, and (for registered users) a possible derivation using L'Hôpital's rule. It is also able to perform calculations on data using more than one source. For example, "What is the fifty-second smallest country by GDP per capita?" yields Syria, $2033 per year (as of 2019).
Wolfram|Alpha is written in 15 million lines of Wolfram Language code and runs on more than 10,000 CPUs. The database currently includes hundreds of datasets, such as "All Current and Historical Weather." The datasets have been accumulated over several years. The curated (as distinct from auto-generated) datasets are checked for quality either by a scientist or other expert in a relevant field, or someone acting in a clerical capacity who simply verifies that the datasets are "acceptable".
One example of a live dataset that Wolfram|Alpha could previously use is the profile of a Facebook user, through inputting the "facebook report" query. If the user authorized Facebook to share his or her account details with the Wolfram site, Alpha could generate a "personal analytics" report containing the age distribution of friends, the frequency of words used in status updates and other detailed information. Within two weeks of launching the Facebook analytics service in September 2012, 400,000 users had used it. Downloadable query results were behind a pay wall but summaries were accessible to free accounts.
Wolfram|Alpha Short Answers API
The Short Answers API returns a single plain text result directly from Wolfram|Alpha. This API type is designed to deliver brief answers in the most basic format possible.
Wolfram|Alpha Simple API
Built on the same technology as the Full Results API, the Simple API generates full Wolfram|Alpha output in a universally viewable image format. This API makes it easy to translate free-form linguistic queries into in-depth, formatted results for users with little coding effort.
Wolfram|Alpha Spoken Results API
The Spoken Results API returns text results phrased in full sentence form. This API is ideal for applications that use a text-to-speech component to deliver a spoken result to the user.
Wolfram|Alpha Full Results API
This API allows clients to submit free-form queries similar to the queries one might enter at the Wolfram|Alpha website, and for the computed results to be returned in a variety of formats.
Wolfram|Alpha Conversational API
The Conversational API returns a text result phrased in full sentence form, along with a token for making a related follow-up query. This API provides an easy interface for personal assistants, reference apps and other situations that call for a continuous dialog.
Wolfram|Alpha Fast Query Recognizer API
The Fast Query Recognizer API returns a raw XML or JSON response telling whether a query would be accepted by the Wolfram|Alpha server, and from what domain the answer will most likely come. This API is designed to give developers a quick way to test the viability of different queries in Wolfram|Alpha API applications.
Wolfram|Alpha Summary Box API
The Summary Box API returns configurable, pre-generated boxes that summarize the available Wolfram|Alpha knowledge for a subject. It is designed to provide a simple starting point for exploration of general topics such as countries, chemicals, dates or people.
Wolfram|Alpha Instant Calculators API
The Instant Calculators API allows quick access to interactive form interfaces for calculating different values from common formulas. This process involves using Fast Query Recognizer API lookups to determine the correct attributes for a particular formula and Full Results API assumptions to represent and alter the possible states of a formula.
Wolfram|Alpha Show Steps API
An extension of the Full Results API, the Show Steps API gives direct access to Wolfram|Alpha's full step-by-step solutions for queries in a variety of mathematical and scientific subjects. These explanations of computed answers are designed to provide clarity and understanding to the end user and are especially useful in educational and training applications.
Launch preparations began on May 15, 2009 at 7 pm CDT and were broadcast live on Justin.tv. The plan was to publicly launch the service a few hours later, with expected issues due to extreme load. The service was officially launched on May 18, 2009.
Wolfram|Alpha has received mixed reviews. Wolfram|Alpha advocates point to its potential, some even stating that how it determines results is more important than current usefulness.
On December 3, 2009, an iPhone app was introduced. Some users considered the initial $50 price of the iOS app unnecessarily high, since the same features could be freely accessed by using a web browser instead. They also complained about the simultaneous removal of the mobile formatting option for the site. Wolfram responded by lowering the price to $2, offering a refund to existing customers and re-instating the mobile site.
On October 6, 2010, an Android version of the app was released and it is now available for Kindle Fire and Nook. (The Nook version is not available outside the U.S.) A further 71 apps are available which use the Wolfram|Alpha engine for specialized tasks.
On June 18, 2018, the Japanese version of Wolfram|Alpha was released.
On February 8, 2012, Wolfram|Alpha Pro was released, offering users additional features for a monthly subscription fee. A key feature is the ability to upload for automatic analysis many common file types and data, including raw tabular data, images, audio, XML, and dozens of specialized scientific, medical, and mathematical formats. Other features include an extended keyboard, interactivity with CDF, data downloads, in-depth step-by-step solution, the ability to customize and save graphical and tabular results and extra computation time.
Some changes in the free version of the site at the time that Wolfram|Alpha Pro was launched:
An increase in advertisements on the free site.
Text and PDF export options now require the user to set up a free account even though they existed before the introduction of Wolfram|Alpha accounts.
The option to request extra time for a long calculation is no longer available to free users.
Step-by-step solving of math problems is limited to three steps for free users (previously uncapped). It has since been reduced to only one step with a preview of the second.
Wolfram|Alpha Enterprise is a business-focused analytics tool that was released in 2016. The program combines data supplied by a corporation with the algorithms from Wolfram|Alpha to answer questions related to that corporation.
InfoWorld published an article warning readers of the potential implications of giving an automated website proprietary rights to the data it generates. Free software advocate Richard Stallman also opposes the idea of recognizing the site as a copyright holder and suspects that Wolfram would not be able to make this case under existing copyright law.