angry tapir writes "Microsoft is rolling out some enhancements to its Bing search engine, including some that rely on computational information delivered by Wolfram Alpha. That means that people will be able to search for some complicated information, and the search engine will be able to compute the answers. In a blog post, Tracey Yao, program manager, and Pedro Silva, product manager at Microsoft, give some examples."
KentuckyFC writes "Nobel prize-winning physicist Gerard 't Hooft has joined the likes of computer scientists Stephen Wolfram and Ed Fredkin in claiming that the universe can be accurately modeled by cellular automata. The novel aspect of 't Hooft's model is that it allows quantum mechanics and, in particular, the spooky action at a distance known as entanglement to be deterministic. The idea that quantum mechanics is fundamentally deterministic is known as hidden variable theory but has been widely discounted by physicists because numerous experiments have shown its predictions to be wrong. But 't Hooft says his cellular automaton model is a new class of hidden variable theory that falls outside the remit of previous tests. However, he readily admits that the new model has serious shortcomings — it lacks some of the basic symmetries that our universe enjoys, such as rotational symmetry. However, 't Hooft adds that he is working on modifications that will make the model more realistic (abstract)."
snydeq writes "Fatal Exception's Neil McAllister suggests that Wolfram Research's claim to copyright of results returned by the Wolfram Alpha engine could have significant ramifications for the software industry. 'While software companies routinely retain sole ownership of their software and license it to users, Wolfram Research has taken the additional step of claiming ownership of the output of the software itself,' McAllister writes, pointing out that it is 'at least theoretically possible to copyright works generated by machines.' And, under current copyright law, if any Wolfram claim to authorship of the output of its engine is upheld, by extension the same rules will apply to other information services in similar cases as well. In other words, 'If unique presentations based on software-based manipulation of mundane data are copyrightable, who retains what rights to the resulting works?'"
An anonymous reader sends in a story about how Wolfram Alpha is becoming the latest tool students are using to help with their schoolwork, and why some professors are worried it will interfere with the learning process. Quoting: "The goal of WolframAlpha is to bring high-level mathematics to the masses, by letting users type in problems in plain English and delivering instant results. As a result, some professors say the service poses tough questions for their classroom policies. 'I think this is going to reignite a math war,' said Maria H. Andersen, a mathematics instructor at Muskegon Community College, referring to past debates over the role of graphing calculators in math education. 'Given that there are still pockets of instructors and departments in the US where graphing calculators are still not allowed, some instructors will likely react with resistance (i.e. we still don't change anything) or possibly even with the charge that using WA is cheating.'"
future.nerd tips news that Wolfram Alpha is set to be launched tonight at 8PM EST (00:00 GMT), and the entire process will be broadcast live, via webcast. Steven Wolfram said to PCPro, "We've been rather surprised that we haven't been able to find even a single publicly available record of the commissioning of any large website at all. So we thought we would document our own experience. We can't guarantee that everything will go smoothly. We fully expect to encounter unanticipated situations along the way. We hope that it'll be interesting for people to join us as we work through these in real time." In a related blog post, he explains how Wolfram Alpha interacts with Mathematica.
SilverMind writes in to note a blog entry at Byte Size Biology describing in detail a few hours spent with Wolfram Alpha (which we have discussed before). "After playing around with Wolfram Alpha for a few hours, I can safely say the following: it's different, it's incomplete, it's idiosyncratic, and it's funky cool. And no, it will not dethrone Google, nor does it aim to do so."
wjousts writes "Technology Review has an article comparing various search results from Wolfram Alpha and Google. Results vary. For example, searching 'Microsoft Apple' in Alpha returns data comparing both companies stock prices, whereas Google top results are news stories mentioning both companies. However, when searching for '10 pounds kilograms,' Alpha rather unhelpfully assumes you want to multiply 10 pounds by 1 kilogram, whereas Google directs you to sites for metric conversions. Change the query to '10 pounds in kilograms' and both give you the result you'd expect (i.e. 4.536 kg)."
An anonymous reader points out a ReadWriteWeb piece on an hour-long demo of Wolfram|Alpha (which we discussed at its announcement). Stephen Wolfram does not like to call it a "search engine," preferring instead the term "computational knowledge engine." It will open to the public in May. "The hype around Wolfram|Alpha, the next 'Google killer' from the makers of Mathematica, has been building over the last few weeks. Today, we were lucky enough to attend a one-hour web demo with Stephen Wolfram, and from what we've seen, it definitely looks like it can live up to the hype — though, because it is so different from traditional search engines, it will definitely not be a 'Google killer.' According to Stephen Wolfram, the goal of Alpha is to give everyone access to expert knowledge and the data that a specialist would be able to compute from this information."
An anonymous reader writes "Computer scientist Stephen Wolfram feels that he has put together at least the initial version of a computer that actually answers factual questions, a la Star Trek's ship computers. His version will be found on their Web-based application, Wolfram Alpha. What does this mean? Well, instead of returning links to pages that may (or may not) contain the answer to your questions, Wolfram will respond with the actual answer. Just imagine typing in 'How many bones are in the human body?' and getting the answer." Right now, though the search entry field is in place, Alpha is not yet generally available -- only "to a few select individuals."
thefickler writes "The Chinese Government is expanding a crackdown on Internet pornography. Xinhua news agency, which is owned by the government and can safely be used for reporting in China, says the campaign to scrub the country's Internet of 'vulgar' content has so far resulted in 29 criminal cases. Police have ordered the removal of 46,000 pornographic and other 'harmful' items from websites. The latest crackdown comes after official warnings of rising social unrest as the economy slows. It's no coincidence that this year is the twentieth anniversary of Tiananmen Square, or, to use the acceptable nomenclature, 'the June 4th incident.'"
Clara writes "The YouTube blog has announced that YouTube is on its way to the PlayStation 3 and Wii. From the article: 'Have you ever wanted to just sit on your couch and watch YouTube on your TV? Well, now that's possible via YouTube for Television, initially available through the Sony PS3 and Nintendo Wii game consoles at www.youtube.com/tv. Currently in beta, the TV Website offers a dynamic, lean-back, 10-foot television viewing experience.' No YouTube for Xbox, however (Google must simply not have gotten around to Microsoft yet)."
dataxtream writes "The world's first refrigerated beach is to be built at a luxury hotel in Dubai, located along the southern coast of the Persian Gulf. The beach will include heat-absorbing pipes under the sand along with large wind blowers, which will keep tourists cool and guard their feet against the hot sand. Half of me says these guys need a reality check, the other half wants to go there." I believe I've just thought of a way we could solve this whole global warming thing I've been hearing about.
unassimilatible writes "If there was ever a sad day for nerds, it's today, as Majel Barrett-Rodenberry has passed away. The widow of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry is best remembered as the gorgeous Nurse Christine Chapel from the original series, the pesky and officious Lwaxana Troi from The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, and of course the ubiquitous voice of Star Trek computers in movies, TV, and animated films (who hasn't used her voice as a system sound on their PC?). Majel also attended Star Trek conventions yearly and was a producer of Andromeda. Fortunately, Majel just finished her voice over work for the computers in J.J. Abrams' latest Trek movie. I have to admit, this made me sad, just having caught up on the entire TNG and DS9 series on DVD."
Hugh Pickens writes "Botanist Rod Simmons thought he was going crazy when couldn't find any acorns near his home in Arlington County, Virginia. 'I'm used to seeing so many acorns around and out in the field, it's something I just didn't believe,' said Simmons. Then calls started coming in about crazy squirrels. Starving, skinny squirrels eating garbage, inhaling bird feed, greedily demolishing pumpkins. Squirrels boldly scampering into the road. And a lot more calls about squirrel roadkill. Simmons and Naturalist Greg Zell began to do some research and found Internet discussion groups, including one on Topix called 'No acorns this year,' reporting the same thing from as far away as the Midwest up through New England and Nova Scotia. 'We live in Glenwood Landing, N.Y., and don't have any acorns this year. Really weird,' wrote one. 'None in Kansas either! Curiouser and curiouser.' The absence of acorns could have something to do with the weather and Simmons has a theory about the wet and dry cycles. But many skeptics say oaks in other regions are producing plenty of acorns, and the acorn bust is nothing more than the extreme of a natural boom-and-bust cycle. But the bottom line is that no one really knows. 'It's sort of a mystery,' Zell said."