SMX Advanced Keynote: Barak Berkowitz, Managing Director, Wolfram | Alpha

(The below are Tim’s notes from the Keynote speech at SMX Advanced.  They have been posted during the session and will be tidied up later – more SMX coverage here)

Blog Partner Logo

Barak is new to Wolfram Alpha (10 weeks) with a long history of working in home computing and internet (Macy’s first computer store, Apple, Infoseek, Six Apart and others).  Enjoys being at the pioneer stage.  Sees Wolfram Alpha as being ground breaking and will change the way we think about information.

Wolfram Alpha is one today – happy birthday!

What is Wolfram Alpha?

It mashes up data sources to give answers.  Want us to see it as a “fact engine” that will change the world forever.

Can do simple maths (2+2), can forcast the weather.  Uses trillions of datasets to turn linguistic queries into answers.  Search for “Japan GDP” brings back lots of data.  Do “Japan China GDP” it will bring back comparison data and graphs.  Could potentially compare the GDP of Japan to number of goats in Switzeralnd if you really wanted.  Syntax: “gdp japan/china” will compare them as ratios.

“It is not a search engine.  Its a computational knowledge engine”.  Aims to give you the answer on the page rather than sending you elsewhere (ala Google search)

Data is curated by PHDs who normalise the data into a structure that WA can compare to other data sets.  Core engine is able to turn data into charts.

Who is Stephen Wolfram? British physicist, software developer, mathematician.  All round genius.  His vision is to make all factual knowledge of mankind available and computable.  “Democratise knowledge and you change the world.” Barak sees WA as the next step in this progression.

Some other questions to ask WA:

  • Am I drunk?
  • Am I fat?
  • Directions
  • Chicago house prices
  • Historical weather info
  • President of peru 1922
  • caffeine
  • no 10 screw
  • life expectancy male scotland
  • stock prices
  • What is the meaning of life

Have full genetic code of humans, mice etc.  Adding more and more data all the time.

Excited by the unknown ways that people will use WA.

What Next for Wolfram Alpha?

  • One of Barak’s first steps was to change iPhone app.  Mobile is a key priority.
  • WA EBooks – brilliant place to put facts.  EBooks are rapidly changing from books in electronic format to more interactive.  WA is incorported into an eBook called elements to provide additional facts.  Call them “Live Books” – always updated with most current data.  Explore within the book
  • Widgets – embed WA in your blog, website etc.  Interactive widgets e.g. check the date, tide checks, human growth charts, mortgage calculators.
  • API – already used extensively by Bing


  • Copyright of Data? Very complex.  Who owns facts?  Have to buy some, arguing cases for others
  • How does data get chosen to be included? Have more than one source of same data.  No way currently to submit/sell data to WA but looking at how to do this.  Plan to allow people to allow people to upload spreadsheets.
  • Relationship between WA and search engines?  Does Google represent competition? See it more as an opportunity than threat (e.g. Bing relationship)
  • Monetisation plan? Nothing yet but that process is being looked at.  Sponsored links likely to come at some point.  Licensing data/widgets/APIs etc.  Challange is not finding ways of monetising it but getting it right.
  • Marketing strategy? Shouldn’t talk about target market for universal products but communities who care about facts.  Identifying that “physchographic”
  • Multilanguage? Plans afoot.  Not easy.

If you need any help in doing "digital" better don't hesitate to contact us.

Want to hear more from Attacat?

Sign up to our newsletter and receive our latest articles.

View our latest newsletter here.