There’s quite a bit of talk on the web lately about Apple’s new Siri feature which uses Wolfram Alpha behind the scenes to answer the questions Siri gets asked. Unlike Google, which searches the web for content that matches, Wolfram Alpha is a service which “figures out” (runs algorithms to derive) the answer to your question based on data it has in its massive databases. It’s an amazing service and a perfect partner for a service like Siri.
What many don’t know however is that Wolfram Alpha is by a company called Wolfram Research who has a long intertwined history with Apple. They have one other major product in their portfolio that many know called Mathematica. Many who never used the product know it as something that’s been demoed several a few times during a keynote after being introduced by Steve Jobs. I think the most recent was WWDC when Mathematica was ported to Intel on OS X in 2005.
Steve Jobs had a long lasting relationship with Stephen Wolfram going back to the days of NeXT and Mathematica 1.0. Apple using Wolfram Alpha to power Siri wasn’t a whim, it was coming full circle years later. Stephen Wolfram’s blog post is really an amazing story on how their companies intertwined over the years in a quite organic way. Steve Jobs gave Wolfram feedback through the years that seemingly was centered about simplicity. Siri is the culmination of Steve Jobs UX vision and Stephen Wolfram’s information vision.
Quite amazing to think the groundwork for that relationship and in a sense this iPhone feature goes back more than 20 years.