Rants In Our Pants

Bing Hires Wolfram/Alpha to Help it Pass Math

Microsoft is hoping a partnership with uber-geek search engine Wolfram Alpha will let it out-Google Google. Our tests, however, suggest a different result.

By (@tynanwrites)

November 11, 2009

anelina jolie vs adriana limaMicrosoft has finally decided to get some help from the class nerd. Today it announced its Bing search engine will be partnering with Wolfram/Alpha, the “computational knowledge engine” that debuted last May, causing geeks the world over to wet themselves.

In other words, Bing will handle all the easy questions about sports and television, but leave the math and other hard stuff to its personal-hygiene-challenged partner.

Is this really the best idea? After subjecting The Computer Who Wore Tennis Shoes to our extremely challenging IQ exam, we’re not entirely convinced.

Because W/A comes from the hopeless math geeks who created Mathematica, we started out with a question deep inside its comfort zone.

1. What is 2+2?

W/A knocked this one out of the park, coming up with the correct answer within nanoseconds.

wolfram alpha 2+2
Score: 1 for 1

Unlike “Jeopardy,” W/A doesn’t require you to phrase things in the form of a question. So we simply plugged in a series of numbers and hit compute.

2. 36-24-36

Like a true math geek, it interpreted this as a math problem:
wolfram alpha 36-24-36

The correct answer: The “perfect” curvature of a Playboy bunny (also, coincidentally, my locker combination in junior high).

Score: 1 for 2.

Now it was time to raise the bar.

3. What is the largest prime number?

It responded with a decidedly pompous: “There is no largest prime.” It added, however, that the largest known prime is largest-prime-number

Score: 2 out of 3…. smartass. OK, gloves off time.

4. What is Bill O’Reilly’s IQ divided by the square root of Rush Limbaugh’s waist line?

W/A Chewed on this for about 30 seconds before responding “Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input.”

(Yeah, well we have a few suggestions on what you can do with our input.)

The correct answer? Interestingly, it’s the same as the answer to question #1.

Score: 2 for 4.

Now it was time for an impossible question.

5. Who is hotter, Angelina Jolie or Adriana Lima?

Seconds ticked by. Wolfram/Alpha strained mightily. You could almost see the smoke curling out of its ears. And then it delivered this:

wolfram alpha jolie lima question

Because some things are just unknowable.

Still, we gave W/A a few minutes to regain its composure and asked again. This time it suggested Adriana Lima might be a person or a city in Peru, but it didn’t seem to recognize Angelina Jolie at all.

How can we trust anything that doesn’t recognize Angelina Jolie?

We gave it two wrong answers for that.

Final score: 2 out of 6. Or, as W/A might put it:

wolfram alpha 33333

Really, when it came to anything not vaguely math related, W/A went face down in the cheese dip.

It could not tell us who holds the major league record for most home runs in a career, or who’s on first. It could not tell us who put the ram in the ram-alama-ding-dong or why do fools fall in love (though it did know who recorded that song — Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers). It thought Miss Semi-Nude California USA pageant queen Carrie Prejean was a waterfall in New Zealand. When we asked which actor had won the most Academy Awards, W/A shrugged and replied: “Development of this topic is under investigation.”

Aside from giving Sean Penn two Oscars, what in God’s name has the Academy done to merit an investigation?

Our conclusion: Wolfram/Alpha is the dweeby guy in the corner you desparately try to avoid because you’ll end up trapped in an endless conversation about imperfect integers while the hottie who was giving you the greasy eyeball slips out the door.

Is it a worthy partner for Microsoft Bing’s hopes and dreams? Not until it gets down with Angelina, baby.

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