There are important questions, and there are more important questions. Wolfram|Alpha positions itself as a computational knowledge engine. Questions such as “What is pi?” are quickly resolved, with a good short summary stating that π is a universal mathematical constant that is defined as the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle. That’s all fine and good. You can ask tricky things, such as “10 nearest stars” and it works it out, and Bob’s your uncle, ask about an ISBN number at it will render the barcode, and give a basic Venn-diagram question, and it gives you a logical and graphical portayal.

But what about the tough questions? Sure, on the question of “What is the meaning of life?“, it returns “42”. But what about the tricky questions – those that bug you at dinner parties? “How many clowns fit into a Mini Cooper?” meets with only a curt retort: “Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure how to compute an answer to your input.” Note the contraction the machine makes, to lull you into a sense of a relaxed humanoid on the other side of the system. Wouldn’t it venture an estimation? Having seen that the typical number of clowns in a Volkswagen Beetle (with seats removed) is 25, an educated guess would set the number at 17 in a Mini (it being smaller and all?), perhaps 19 if you get trainee-clowns? I have seen estimates of 10, but does seem a tad low…

They sent people to the Moon (for arguement’s sake) but they can’t have a system calculate the answer to this simple question… Technology – sigh…