What’s troubling about WolframAlpha

From an AP review (dated May 13) of WolframAlpha by Brian Bergstein:

In the interest of full
disclosure, I'll admit that I'm troubled by the potential for
WolframAlpha. I fear the implications of an information butler that is
considered so smart and so widely applicable that people turn to
it without question, by default, whenever they want to know something.

What's that, you say? We already have such a service?

Well,
for all the fears that Google is making us stupid by making it too easy
to look up information, at least Google and its rivals enable the
critical thinking that comes from scoping out multiple sources.

Unlike
search engines that deliver links that match keywords in your query,
WolframAlpha is more of a black box. If you have it perform a
calculation, it gives you an answer, along with a small link for
"source information." Open that and you'll generally be told the data
was "curated"—found and verified—by the company behind WolframAlpha. In
other words, "trust us."

The site does suggest ways to
track down similar information from other sources, including government
statistics, proprietary databases, almanacs and the collaborative
encyclopedia Wikipedia. To confirm WolframAlpha's data I went a
suddenly old-fashioned route—through Web searches on Google and Yahoo.
I didn't find any errors, but taking that step made me wonder why I
didn't just use Google or Yahoo to begin with.

Link: Review: Flaws in Web's much-touted WolframAlpha.

Rory Litwin has posted similar comments at Library Juice: Wolfram Alpha: Bad Idea!

1 thought on “What’s troubling about WolframAlpha

  1. Very interesting point. of course, one must wonder what fraction of Google users do apply critical thought to the search results to begin with, but the format does encourage it.

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