Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

UCare generously supports MinnPost’s Second Opinion coverage; learn why.

A new healthful search engine (and, no, it’s not Bing)

My mathematician son-in-law recently alerted me to an amazing new search engine called WolframAlpha.

My mathematician son-in-law recently alerted me to an amazing new search engine called WolframAlpha. It’s the brainchild of Stephen Wolfram, the creator of Mathematica software, which my son-in-law calls “one of the most widely used programs in the field of mathematics.” (I’ll have to take his word for that.)

As Wolfram himself says in his explanatory video of the program, WolframAlpha is “trying to make the world’s knowledge computable for everyone.”

And compute it does. With bells and whistles. Enter into the search engine any piece of information — or combination of information — and you’ll immediately receive all sorts of statistical feedback about it, often displayed in easy-to-read charts and graphs.

For example, when I typed in my first name, I was informed of such things as:
• 1 in 4,975 babies born this year in the United States (0.02 percent) will be named Susan.
• 1.004 million Americans alive today are named Susan (0.42 percent of the population).
• The average age of someone named Susan is 55.

There’s even a graph to show the rise and (sad) fall of my name’s popularity over the last 100 years.

Using it for your health
You can play around on WolframAlpha to calculate intriguing info about your health. For example, after typing in some basic health demographics about myself, WolframAlpha showed me my 10-year risk of developing heart disease, based on the Framingham Heart Study. There was even a chart that demonstrated how my risk will increase as I age (assuming my health factors remain the same).

I also typed in my latest blood pressure readings, and immediately found out how my numbers compare with the rest of the U.S. population. You can have WolframAlpha’s algorithms perform similar feats with other kinds of medical test results.

The search engine will also compute the nutritional information for different foods (or combination of foods), the calories you burn when you exercise, information about your eyeglass prescription, information about medications, the estimated due date for your baby (should you be pregnant), how tall a child is likely to grow based on his or her current height, and more.

My son-in-law says—and I agree—that WolframAlpha is not likely to motivate anybody to give up Google (or the newcomer, Bing), but it may provide you with fun—and perhaps healthful—entertainment this weekend.