The surprising facile usefulness of Wolfram Alpha

by phil on Wednesday May 20, 2009 12:16 AM

I admit, I've been a skeptic toward Wolfram Alpha. That is, until I some Reddit users nudged me into using it to answer my own question.

On Reddit, I had asked, Are there examples of countries whose populations stopped growing but still managed to prosper? A few people commented with the standard good wikipedia link here and there. But more than a few people said they just quickly checked out Wolfram Alpha to find some answers. I wanted to ask them what queries they used, and then I just nudged myself to go ahead and just try.

So I went into Wolfram Alpha and typed in "population growth vs. gdp" and bam, answer:

Noise. Which sort of jives with the other responses on Reddit. The idea that population growth is necessary for economic growth may simply be something that sounds right, but isn't quite backed up by evidence.

Even though I had asked for example countries, I was more trying to see whether the theory of economic and population decline held water.

Anyway, from now on, I'll probably find myself asking the question, "I wonder if Wolfram Alpha can solve this."

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