I know Google can solve math problems. But I was tinkering with Wolfram Alpha the other day, with an eye to comparing it with Google Search and I ran across something very interesting…and a bit troubling. Wolfram Alpha (WA) is very good at data-retrieval, which is different from search in some important ways. But it is also capable of solving not just arithmetical problems but algebraic equations as well. In fact, WA bills itself as a Computational Knowledge Engine.
So I thought I’d see if Google could also deal with simple algebraic equations..
Spoiler alert: as far as I can tell, it can’t.
I typed in a completely arbitrary algebraic expression and Google brought up search results for sites and documents that contained that sequence and similar ones. Not much help there.
So just to refresh my mind on what Google does with calculations, I entered this arbitrary expression:
The usual calculator image with the answer (30.333333…) appeared as the first result. But I allowed my eye to scan below that expected outcome and was startled to find as the very next result, a reference to the Bible: “Matthew, chapter 12” from the site of the United States Conference of Bishops.
I wondered what portion of the search term generated that result.
So I trimmed the search term to 43+12/9. Now the posts following the calculator result were engineering-like entries dealing with connectivity and other esoterica.
43+12/ led to…ready? No math result, of course, but the first entry was to Isaiah 43:12!
Same result if I omit the slash, but in that case, I get the calculator result, too.
It turned out that the only way to get the original citation to Matthew without the full original search term was to trim it to 43+12/9-1.
I spent way too much time on this but it was really fascinating. I cannot easily decode the reasons that some of those mathematical formulas produce Biblical citations when entered in the Google Search bar. I’d love to understand it, though.