Alexa Just Got a Heck of a Lot Smarter

Remember Wolfram Alpha, that tool that saved your high school calculus grade? Now you can use it with Amazon's voice assistant.

Credit: Amazon

(Image credit: Amazon)

Alexa is now integrated with Wolfram Alpha, which enables it to answer more difficult questions precisely. Previously, Alexa primarily drew from Wikipedia and Yelp, as well as specialized databases such as IMDB and Accuweather, to respond to your queries.

When you ask a search engine such as Google for the answer to a math problem, it parses the web to find the most relevant result available. Wolfram Alpha, by contrast, uses its own models to compute the answer using data curated from around the web.

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According to Wolfram Alpha's website, the service answers questions using "dynamic computations based on a vast collection of built-in data, algorithms and methods."  Wolfram Alpha itself gathers data from a number of academic websites, including the Dow Jones, CrunchBase, and the United States Geological Survey.

This all means that you can now ask your Alexa device quantitative questions, the answers to which may not necessarily be available in other databases. You can try "Alexa, what is the billionth prime number?" or "Alexa, what is x to the power of three plus x plus five where x is equal to seven?"

The integration could be a big step forward for Amazon's voice assistant. Google Assistant is generally regarded as a smarter voice assistant than its longtime rival, but the one category in which Alexa has the upper hand is general knowledge. It's more accurate, and often provides context or cites a source in places where Google fails to do so.

And with the recent launch of Answer Update, which continuously augments and refines Alexa's knowledge base, it look like Alexa is gearing up to be a much smarter voice assistant in the coming year.

Monica Chin is a writer at The Verge, covering computers. Previously, she was a staff writer for Tom's Guide, where she wrote about everything from artificial intelligence to social media and the internet of things to. She had a particular focus on smart home, reviewing multiple devices. In her downtime, you can usually find her at poetry slams, attempting to exercise, or yelling at people on Twitter.

  • eric.overton
    Back when I took calculus, what saved me was an SWTPC6800 with a 300 baud acoustically-coupled modem that could dial up a computer on the MIT campus that was running Macsyma. But that was back in the days when men were real men, women were real women, computers were real computers, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri.

    We worked in 8 bits with a 3.579545MHz TV colorburst crystal, and we were damned glad to do it. Not having to punch holes in a Hollerith card was a major step forward.

    And in those days, if you couldn't draw an integral sign using the ASCII symbols that went with 0x2F and 0x7C, you had no business using anything more technologically advanced than a Pez dispenser.
  • moonwatcher2001
    Learning calculus takes engaging your brain, understanding what, how, and why you are doing it. No computer program can provide a shortcut to that, not even Wolfram Alpha.

    Now, it is cool that Alexa is integrated with it so we can ask more pertinent questions.

    Is this integration automatic or is it a "SKILL" you have to enable in Alexa?