## Tuesday, October 4, 2011

### Math Smarts

This blog is designed to help adults remember figure out what to do with the elementary math skills they learned in school. I write these things because I am editor of the Excel Math curriculum used by thousands of elementary schools across North America.

Today I am changing tack a bit because Apple just introduced the new iPhone 4S. We all expected the iPhone5, and so there's a bit of a let-down feeling across the world of Apple fans. There was one bright spot though, for math lovers.

Apple has done a deal with Wolfram Alpha (a "computational knowledge engine") to integrate its capabilities on the new phone's Siri Assistant application. I've mentioned Wolfram several times before - both its Alpha search and the MathWorld resource. Here's a Gizmodo description of this feature on the iPhone:

"Finally, there's Wolfram Alpha baked into Assistant. Wolfram Alpha is the equivalent of an extremely nerdy, always-right friend who knows everything. And now Assistant is that genius friend. Ask your iPhone for the GDP of Libya: it'll tell you. Ask your iPhone how many feet from the Earth Jupiter is. It'll tell you. Wolfram Alpha support gives you an enormous trove of instant knowledge, invaluable for work, school, or just winning an argument with your friend."

I went to Wolfram's search bar on my desktop machine, and entered iPhone. Here's what I got back:

Notice? It's data, not links to other stories. To learn a bit more, I typed in Apple Computer. Here's what I got back this time - again data, not stories or links. And it's current data too, since the share price was less than 1 minute old! This is what math people like - numbers!

It was an interesting result to see, when we are used to looking at Google search results. Lots of links, a few pictures, snippets of text, etc.

But this is the best part - the integration of the iPhone 4S with Wolfram will be done through verbal control! And it is smart enough to know about our chosen subject (mathematics) and all its permutations.

When I asked Wolfram about math, it gave me too many options - calculus, statistics, etc. But when I asked about arithmetic, I got this:

Just the sort of thing we help kids learn in Excel Math. Each line is active in the Wolfram window - if you press the equals sign you get a result. You can go into each different line and change the data to get another answer - perhaps the answer you are looking for.

Try it, you might like it. Maybe it will make you want to order an iPhone 4S (or at least get one of the many Wolfram Apps).