Wolfram Research yesterday launched Wolfram Alpha Notebook Edition for Windows, Mac, and Linux. The news largely flew under the radar, which is frankly a shame. The new tool combines Wolfram Alpha and Mathematica to give students (and teachers) a new way to build through whole computations. But it’s the natural language understanding (NLU) examples that really caught my eye.

Wolfram Research is best known for creating the modern technical computing system Mathematica and the computational knowledge engine Wolfram Alpha (stylized Wolfram|Alpha). While Wolfram Alpha is already popular with students, it’s a one-shot process: math question in, computational answers out. Wolfram Alpha Notebook Edition is supposed to keep you engaged by being more than just a powerful calculator. The only real barrier here is that it’s not free.

Natural Language Understanding in the classroom

Founder Stephen Wolfram believes Wolfram Alpha Notebook Edition will “streamline coursework, deepen understanding, enable new concepts to be taught, and effectively provide a course-based personal AI tutor for every student.” Wolfram gives some examples to drive this point home.

Here is a simple one of Wolfram Alpha Notebook Edition understanding what “that” and “it” refer to:

Here is a slightly more complicated NLU example:

And here is Wolfram Alpha Notebook Edition doing multistep computations that refer to previous results:

Even defining functions is easier with NLU:

And finally, here is Wolfram Alpha Notebook Edition correctly figuring out what “it” refers to in “integrate it again” as well as differentiating “plot it” (plot the latest result) from just “plot” (let me plot something new):

None of this is new per se, but when put in the classroom context, it can be incredibly powerful. Teachers can even assign work that students can fill out, manipulate, and save for later, all using natural language.

I wish I had Wolfram Alpha Notebook Edition as a student in university.

ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about whatever crosses him that week.


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