The latest version of Mathematica has some interesting and important new features but its creator, Steven Wolfram, clearly thinks that it natural language abilities are key.
Wolfram started the move into natural language with Wolfram Alpha the search engine that you can ask questions in plan English and sometimes expect to get an appropriate answer back. Now Mathematica 8 is integrated with Alpha. You can type commands that are easy to understand for any English speaker and these are interpreted via a connection to Alpha. Of course you can also use Alpha to answer questions which you can incorporate into your Mathematica worksheet.
To use the natural language input all you have to do is type an = sign and follow it by free form English input. For example, instead of having you type the command Plot(x*Sin(x)^3,{x,6.3,6.3} you can type plot x sin^3 x.
If you are not mathematically inclined you might not think there is much difference but it gets better. You can refer to data object such as a city or chemical formula and Alpha will retrieve the data and create a Mathematica data structure to represent it. In each case Alpha attempts to best represent the free form language as a Mathematica construct and so even if it doesn't get it right you might still have something that can be corrected.
It is difficult to know how far this facility is revolutionary but Steven Wolfram thinks it is:
I think this is all a pretty big deal. You see, in the past, if you wanted to do any serious programming, you really had no choice but to learn a precise formal programming language. But now you can just tell the computer what you want to do using plain English.
...
I have been most encouraged by how far we have already been able to get. And indeed I have noticed that I myself have now routinely started to rely on freeform linguistics whenever I use Mathematica.
More information from the Mathematica website.
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