On computers: Wolfram Alpha no cookie-cutter search site

Jim Hillibish

Into the crowded world of spectacular hype called search engines, enter, the puppy of math whiz Stephen Wolfram, creator of Mathematica.

I blew off a Saturday morning on it. OK, it was sleeting. But still, I found it compelling in philosophy and confounding in execution.

There’s a lot of big words describing it. It looks like a search site if you accidentally chance upon it like me. It acts like a ... wow, I don’t know. In the cookie-cutter era of all sites looking and acting alike, this is a real discovery, I guess.

It draws you inside, then abuses your brain. Its goal is to centralize “all systemic knowledge.” I still don’t know what that is, but I barely passed math.

OK, I typed in “rocket.” Instead of a hit list, WA calls the search results an “input interpretation.” After all, this is a “computational knowledge engine,” not just a search site.

First, it displayed a definition of rocket: No 1 hit (usually the most relevant one on Google), it described the European lettuce plant called Rocket. Let us explain. It’s actually called roquette, but a scientist would not know that.

Here I get lost. It’s usual for a link in a search site to lead to someplace else. WA doesn’t let you get away that easily. Links here pop up a “copyable plaintext.” I think it’s a definition, maybe not.

Scroll down. Here are the “rhyming words.” How often in life  have you needed a rhyming word, twice? It insists profit rhymes with rocket. Strange. But there’s no socket that really rhymes with rocket. That’s too obvious. Or pocket.

Scroll down to peruse the chart, pardon me, the “synonym network.” It shows the rocket synonyms hooked by lines and incomprehensible little blue dots.

I tried “Canton, Ohio.”  Up popped the population,  and a list of the towns nearby. There’s nothing even remotely interesting, no text summary. Then you notice these guys are really bad on words. Apparently they fear them and avoid them everywhere. Or perhaps words are superfluous in a computer age.

It insists you type in your birthday. Up pops your age down to the day, then a strange list of “anniversaries,” such as “Legs Larry Smith, 5th.” And then, the phases of the moon. Help me.

Finally, the acid test, “Hillibish.”

“Assuming hillibish is a species specification,” it insists. Then it assumes I meant “kill-a-fish.”

At that instant, I assumed I was totally in over my red head. Try When you figure it out, let me know. It might be the biggest advance in informational science networking or the biggest joke.

Jim Hillibish writes for The Repository in Canton, Ohio. Contact him at