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Wolfram Alpha December 2016.svg
Type of site
Answer engine
OwnerWolframAlpha LLC
Created byWolfram Research
Employees200 (as of 2012)
LaunchedMay 18, 2009; 11 years ago (2009-05-18)[1] (official launch)
May 15, 2009 (2009-05-15)[2] (public launch)
Current statusActive
Written inWolfram Language

WolframAlpha (also styled Wolfram|Alpha) is a computational knowledge engine[3] or answer engine developed by WolframAlpha 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",[4] rather than providing a list of documents or web pages that might contain the answer, as a search engine might.[5]

WolframAlpha, which was released on May 18, 2009, is based on Wolfram's earlier flagship product Wolfram Mathematica, a computational platform or toolkit that encompasses computer algebra, symbolic and numerical computation, visualization, and statistics capabilities.[1] Additional data is gathered from both academic and commercial websites such as the CIA's The World Factbook, the United States Geological Survey, a Cornell University Library publication called All About Birds, Chambers Biographical Dictionary, Dow Jones, the Catalogue of Life,[3] CrunchBase,[6] Best Buy,[7] and the FAA.[8]


Users submit queries and computation requests via a text field. WolframAlpha 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."[9] 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.

WolframAlpha 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. WolframAlpha 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) 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).

Following the publication of his book A New Kind of Science, Stephen Wolfram wanted a searchable index of cellular automata, to make the results of his book more easily accessible. WolframAlpha fulfils this desire, with an "atlas of simple programs" available on all 256 rules.[10][11]


WolframAlpha is written in 15 million lines of Wolfram Language code[12] and runs on more than 10,000 CPUs.[13][14] The database currently includes hundreds of datasets, such as "All Current and Historical Weather." The datasets have been accumulated over several years.[15] 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 WolframAlpha 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.[16] Within two weeks of launching the Facebook analytics service in September 2012, 400,000 users had used it.[17] Downloadable query results were behind a pay wall but summaries were accessible to free accounts.[18]

WolframAlpha APIs[edit]

WolframAlpha Short Answers API

  • The Short Answers API returns a single plain text result directly from WolframAlpha. This API type is designed to deliver brief answers in the most basic format possible.

WolframAlpha Simple API

  • Built on the same technology as the Full Results API, the Simple API generates full WolframAlpha 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.

WolframAlpha 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.

WolframAlpha Full Results API

  • This API allows clients to submit free-form queries similar to the queries one might enter at the WolframAlpha website, and for the computed results to be returned in a variety of formats.

WolframAlpha 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.

WolframAlpha 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 WolframAlpha 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 WolframAlpha API applications.

WolframAlpha Summary Box API

  • The Summary Box API returns configurable, pre-generated boxes that summarize the available WolframAlpha 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.

WolframAlpha 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.

WolframAlpha Show Steps API

  • An extension of the Full Results API, the Show Steps API gives direct access to WolframAlpha'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.

Licensing partners[edit]

WolframAlpha has been used to power some searches in the Microsoft Bing and DuckDuckGo search engines.[19][20] With the first release on July 21, 2017, Brave web browser features WolframAlpha as one of its default search engines.[21] For factual question answering, it is also queried by Apple's Siri, Amazon Alexa,[22] Samsung's S Voice, Dexetra's Iris, and the voice control software on BlackBerry 10.[23]


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.[24]

WolframAlpha has received mixed reviews.[25][26] WolframAlpha advocates point to its potential, some even stating that how it determines results is more important than current usefulness.[25]

On December 3, 2009, an iPhone app was introduced. Some users[27] 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.[28] Wolfram responded by lowering the price to $2, offering a refund to existing customers[29] and re-instating the mobile site.

On October 6, 2010, an Android version of the app was released[30] 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 WolframAlpha engine for specialized tasks.[31]

On June 18, 2018, the Japanese version of WolframAlpha was released.[32]

WolframAlpha Pro[edit]

On February 8, 2012, WolframAlpha Pro was released,[33] 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[34] and extra computation time.[33]

Some changes in the free version of the site at the time that WolframAlpha 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[33] even though they existed before the introduction of WolframAlpha accounts.[35]
  • The option to request extra time for a long calculation is no longer available to free users.[36][33]
  • 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.[37]

WolframAlpha Enterprise[edit]

WolframAlpha Enterprise is a business-focused analytics tool that was released in 2016. The program combines data supplied by a corporation with the algorithms from WolframAlpha to answer questions related to that corporation.[38]

Copyright claims[edit]

InfoWorld published an article[39] 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.[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The Wolfram|Alpha Launch Team (May 8, 2009). "So Much for A Quiet Launch". Wolfram|Alpha Blog. Wolfram Alpha. Retrieved February 9, 2013.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ The Wolfram|Alpha Launch Team (May 12, 2009). "Going Live—and Webcasting It". Wolfram|Alpha Blog. Wolfram Alpha. Retrieved February 9, 2013.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ a b Bobbie Johnson (May 21, 2009). "Where does Wolfram Alpha get its information?". The Guardian. Retrieved March 8, 2013.
  4. ^ "About Wolfram|Alpha: Making the World's Knowledge Computable". wolframalpha.com. Retrieved November 25, 2015.
  5. ^ Johnson, Bobbie (March 9, 2009). "British search engine 'could rival Google'". The Guardian. UK: Guardian News and Media. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  6. ^ Dillet, Romain (September 7, 2012). "Wolfram Alpha Makes CrunchBase Data Computable Just In Time For Disrupt SF". TechCrunch. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  7. ^ Golson, Jordan (December 16, 2011). "Wolfram Delivers Siri-Enabled Shopping Results From Best Buy". MacRumors. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  8. ^ Barylick, Chris (November 19, 2011). "Wolfram Alpha search engine now tracks flight paths, trajectory information". Engadget. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  9. ^ "Data in Wolfram|Alpha". Wolfram Alpha. Retrieved August 4, 2015.
  10. ^ "Wolfram|Alpha Examples: Computational Sciences". www.wolframalpha.com.
  11. ^ "It's Been 10 Years: What's Happened with A New Kind of Science?—Stephen Wolfram Writings". writings.stephenwolfram.com.
  12. ^ WolframResearch (October 10, 2011). "Stephen Wolfram: The Background and Vision of Mathematica". Youtube.com. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  13. ^ Lardinois, Frederic (April 25, 2009). "Wolfram|Alpha: Our First Impressions". ReadWriteWeb. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  14. ^ Wolfram, Stephen (May 15, 2009). "Wolfram|Alpha Is Launching: Made Possible by Mathematica". WolframAlpha Blog. Wolfram Alpha. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  15. ^ Ozimek, Jane Fae (May 18, 2009). "Taking a first bite out of Wolfram Alpha". The Register. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  16. ^ Weber, Thomas E. (September 5, 2012). "Wolfram Alpha's Facebook Analytics Tool Digs Deep into Your Social Life". Tech. Time Magazine. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  17. ^ R., A. (September 21, 2012). "Visualising Facebook Who am I?". Graphic detail. The Economist. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  18. ^ Joanna Nelson (March 4, 2013). "A Wolf or a Ram? What is Wolfram Alpha?". Public Libraries Online.
  19. ^ Krazit, Tom (August 21, 2009). "Bing strikes licensing deal with Wolfram Alpha". CNET. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  20. ^ The Wolfram|Alpha Team (April 18, 2011). "Wolfram|Alpha and DuckDuckGo Partner on API Binding and Search Integration". Wolfram|Alpha Blog. Wolfram Alpha. Retrieved February 9, 2013.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  21. ^ "Brave Browser Github page". Github. Retrieved August 10, 2017.
  22. ^ "Alexa Can Now Answer Those Tricky Math Questions". News18.
  23. ^ "BlackBerry Teams Up with Wolfram Alpha For BlackBerry 10 Voice Control". BerryReview.
  24. ^ "Wolfram 'search engine' goes live". BBC News. May 18, 2009. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  25. ^ a b Spivack, Nova (March 7, 2009). "Wolfram Alpha is Coming – and It Could be as Important as Google". Nova Spivack – Minding the Planet. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  26. ^ Singel, Ryan (May 18, 2009). "Wolfram|Alpha Fails the Cool Test". Wired. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  27. ^ Siegler, MG (December 3, 2009). "Nice Try, Wolfram Alpha. Still Not Paying $50 For Your App". TechCrunch. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  28. ^ Luoma, TJ (December 3, 2009). "WolframAlpha iPhone-formatted web page no longer available". TUAW. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  29. ^ Broida, Rick (April 1, 2010). "Get Wolfram Alpha app for $1.99-and a refund if you paid more". CNET. Retrieved February 28, 2012.
  30. ^ Rao, Leena (October 6, 2010). "Wolfram Alpha's Android app now available". TechCrunch. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  31. ^ "Wolfram|Alpha: Mobile & Tablet Apps". Wolfram Alpha. 2013. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  32. ^ Tarai, Hideto (June 19, 2018). ""WolframAlpha" which answers any difficult calculations and questions, the Japanese version is released". Windows Forest. Retrieved June 19, 2018.
  33. ^ a b c d Wolfram, Stephen (February 8, 2012). "Announcing Wolfram|Alpha Pro". Wolfram|Alpha Blog. Wolfram Alpha. Retrieved February 9, 2013.
  34. ^ Hachman, Mark (February 7, 2012). "Data Geeks, Meet Wolfram Alpha Pro". PC Magazine. Retrieved February 15, 2012.
  35. ^ Orca, Surfdaddy (June 24, 2009). "A User's Guide to Wolfram Alpha". H+ Magazine. Retrieved April 24, 2013.
  36. ^ Marlowe, James (2011). "Wolfram Alpha Usability Test Survey". Retrieved April 24, 2013.
  37. ^ "Step-by-Step Math".
  38. ^ Castellanos, Sara (February 7, 2019). "Computing Pioneer Stephen Wolfram Creates Data-Analysis Tool for Business". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved February 11, 2019.
  39. ^ Stallman, Richard (August 4, 2009). "How Wolfram Alpha's Copyright Claims Could Change Software". Access 2 Knowledge (Mailing list). Archived from the original on April 28, 2013. Retrieved February 17, 2012.

External links[edit]