February 2012 Past Issues | Advertise | www.cia-ica.ca
Return to main page

Site May Be the Answer

Print Print this Article | Send to Colleague

The internet is an excellent source of free information, but its sheer size can be a problem; according to one survey, as of January 2012 there are more than 582 million sites on the web, and even by 2008 there were over 1 trillion unique webpages.

In such a maze of sites, finding exactly what you need to know can be difficult. But fortunately there is a  site specifically designed to make knowledge computable and accessible.

Wolfram|Alpha has been used by some actuaries for the last few years, but is rapidly increasing in popularity thanks to the success of programming that allows it to offer "definitive answers to factual queries".

The site, which makes clear that it is a computational knowledge engine and not a search engine, has a strong mathematical section (called a "pod") which allows the user to complete such tasks as calculating a derivative, computing a prime factorization and analyzing a graph specified by adjacency rules.

Its Statistics and Data Analysis pod covers such topics as Poisson distribution, regression analysis and probability, while the site also offers information on subjects like computational sciences and socioeconomics. If you need to rapidly discover Canada's birth rate fraction, or the mean dividend yield of 12 insurance companies, this site has that data and more.

Wolfram|Alpha says it aims to bring "high-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people", generating powerful results and presenting them with maximum clarity. For those who want to access particularly specialized information, a paid-for "pro" version of the site allows visitors to enter images, tabular data and symbols as queries to the knowledge engine, and receive longer computations and other benefits.

But for many people, the basic site will be enough. Rather than the general results of search engines, Wolfram|Alpha aims to provide exact, detailed answers to even the most complex question, whether you need to analyze a substitution system, find representations for a function, or know at what time the sun set in Toronto today.

Pros: the quality of scientific data available, and the clear presentation.
Cons: its emphasis on areas where knowledge is more readily quantitative.

Address: www.wolframalpha.com

Do you know of a website that might be of use to your fellow actuaries? Is there a page to which you regularly turn for information, financial news, industry updates, or assistance? If you think you know of a site which might not be familiar to CIA members, please send the address to Andrew Melvin, the CIA's English editor, at andrew.melvin@actuaries.ca, for inclusion in the (e)Bulletin.

360 Albert Street, Suite 1740, Ottawa, ON K1R 7X7
Tel.: 613.236.8196 Fax: 613.233.4552