The newly released version of the Mathematica scientific number-crunching software allows users to enter calculations in plain English, the company announced Monday.
With Wolfram Research's Mathematica 8, now available, the user can simply type in the desired calculation and the software will interpret the input and, presumably, return the correct answer. The company calls this feature "linguistically controlled computing."
"Traditionally, getting computers to perform tasks requires speaking their language or using point-and-click interfaces," said Stephen Wolfram, CEO and founder of Wolfram Research, in a statement. "Free-form linguistics understands human language and translates it into syntax."
This new form of input comes courtesy of Wolfram|Alpha, the company's online Mathematica-powered computation engine.
Someone who needs to, say, get the value of pi to the 200th digit would enter "pi 200 digits" into the command box, rather than encode the question in the Mathematica syntax ("N[Pi, 200]"). Or a user could enter an entire math problem, such as "2a-b=3, a+b+c=1, c-b=6," and the software will intuit that the values of a, b and c will be needed, and return the result.
Overall, version 8 of the software has more than 500 new features and functions, according to the company.
For the first time, the software can generate answers as working C code and standalone executable programs or libraries, eliminating the middle step of translating the Mathematica output. It can also take advantage of the computational power offered by GPUs (Graphics Processing Units) and multicore processors. The software also has an expanded library of functions for statistical and financial and image analysis.