Wolfram Research has released Mathematica 8, bringing some rudimentary human-language skills to the mathematics and scientific software by building in some abilities of the Wolfram Alpha search engine.
It's an unusual combination. Mathematica can produce stunning graphical displays and dig into the murkiest data sets, but only for those who learn its control language.
"Free-form linguistics understands human language and translates it into syntax--a breakthrough in usability," said Chief Executive Stephen Wolfram in a statement.
Well, the Alpha language can't exactly give Mathematica the ability to chat at cocktail parties. But it can understand the command "pi 200 digits" and translate it into the more rigorous Mathematica command of "N[Pi, 200]."
When the commands work, they're translated into Mathematica form for those learning its intricacies, the company said. And they improve as the Wolfram Alpha service improves, independent of the software. Wolfram Alpha also connects Mathematica to the service's curated data sets.
On a more nuts-and-bolts level, Mathematica pushes forward into ever more arcane areas of math, engineering, and science--probability and statistics, group theory, waveform analysis, image processing, financial derivatives calculations, and constructing a Kalman filter for a stochastic system.
Under the covers, Mathematica gets new hardware abilities. It now can tap into the power of graphics chips, either using Nvidia's CUDA architecture or the more general OpenCL interface developed by Apple and the Khronos Group.
Mathematica isn't cheap for professional use. There are discounts for nonprofits, hobbyists, and groups, such as the $295 home edition permitting personal use only or the $45 semester edition for students, but the basic software for a single user is $2,495.
Updated on November 17 at 10:25 a.m. PT with U.S. pricing details.