5 things you need to know about Wolfram Alpha

It'll help you at pub quizzesThe thing about Wolfram Alpha is that it isn't a copycat Google. In fact it doesn't even call itself a search engine &nda

The thing about Wolfram Alpha is that it isn't a copycat Google. In fact it doesn't even call itself a search engine – it's a knowledge engine. So, instead of a list of stuff that other people have done that might not necessarily be what you're looking for, Wolfram presents you with a little fact file based around whatever term you have searched for.

Even better, Wolfram is really pretty darned clever and thinks outside the box as well as within it. Type in 88mph, and not only will it come up with all the unit conversions but also that it is the "speed at which Marty McFly needed to drive the Delorean DMC-12 in order to time travel". Nice.

It's got a sense of humour

Even when things go a bit wrong and Wolfram gets bogged down with traffic, instead of a plain old error page, you'll get a cheeky reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey with the message "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that."

Plus it's even in on the whole chicken crossing the road joke. Ask it why our feathered friend did, and you'll get "to get to the other side". Not the wittiest answer, but it's a classic.

It's a literary whizz

Wolfram doesn't just reel off facts. If you type in the start of some famous quotes, Wolfram will recognise it and finish it off for you. Try "to be or not to be", and guess what answer it comes up with. We know if might not be as useful as some of its features, but we think it's a nice touch.

Plus it doesn't stop at books. Wolfram will also complete famous song lyrics, tongue twisters and movie quotes. It even gets the in jokes on movie references – Monty Python fans will appreciate its answer to the average speed of an unladen swallow [thanks Mashable].

It knows where you are

Oooh, scary. Well not really. Ask Wolfram Alpha where you are, and it is able to check your IP address and tell you your exact location. You know, just in case you wake up somewhere after a heavy night and aren't sure.

And it's not just this bit of human interaction it can cope with. Say hello, Wolfram Alpha will reply courteously. Ask how it is, and Wolfram Alpha will tell you it is fine. It will even answer to questions about its name and age.

The only thing we did notice is that WA seemed a bit defeatist. Ask it if it can do anything other than help, and it straight out says it can't. Come on Wolfram, where's your PMA?

It's just the beginning

Despite having more than 10 trillion pieces of data, the team behind Wolfram Alpha have promised to continue working on the engine's offerings – meaning we can expect plenty more witty replies to our questions, as well as more of the useful stuff too.

To make this happen, Wolfram Alpha is set to roll out developer APIs shortly, and is also looking to move the service onto mobile and other platforms as well to stretch its reach to more people.

Head over to the Wolfram Alpha website to have a play yourself, and be sure to let us know gems you find as answers to your questions below.