Wolfram Alpha: A potential 'Google Killer'?

on May 04 2009 12:57 PM

A new web software, called Wolfram Alpha, has already been hyped as the next Google killer, even before its official launch later this month.

The new system -- developed by Stephen Wolfram, a British award-winning physicist -- is a global store of information that promises to answer all sorts of questions as it understands, and it responds to ordinary language in the same way a person does.

While search engines like Google, find things that already exist on the Internet -- like web sites, photos, videos, blogs, news -- Wolfram Alpha answers questions, often by doing complex, and new computations.

In a demo video (shown on the next page), the question 'how high is Mount Everest?' is asked and Wolfram Alpha responds with a neat page of related information -- all properly sourced -- such as geographical location and nearby towns, and other mountains, complete with graphs and charts. Type in 10 flips for four heads and it will guess that you need to know the probability of coin-tossing. Or you can ask things like 'what was the weather like in London on the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated?' and it will cross-check and provide the answer.

It will understand what you are talking about, Wolfram said. We are just at the beginning. I think we've got a reasonable start on 90 per cent of the shelves in a typical reference library.

Wolfram, 49, explained that the service is built on four basic pillars: a massive amount of data, which his company has collected from various sources; a computational engine built on top of Mathematica, one of Wolfram’s prior inventions; a system for understanding queries; and technology to display results in interesting ways.

So far, the site is accessible only to some program developers but is scheduled to be available to the public later this month. No official date has been confirmed.

Jonathan Zittrain, a law professor at Harvard and the co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, who organized Wolfram’s talk, described the new service as a powerful “computable almanac.”

“It aspires to the depth and breadth of a traditional almanac,” Mr. Zittrain said. “And it allows people to juxtapose data, to take a set of facts and relate them to other facts in new ways. You can compare population trends to the amount of fish consumed and correlate it to mortality rate.”

Although Google's new public data search service is impressive, however, it only compares data from public sources like the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while Wolfram Alpha has a more robust library of data.

In essence, Wolfram Alpha is not a typical Web search engine, therefore not a Google Killer as some might say, but it can be considered to be more like a giant encyclopedia of statistics and facts. If anything, the site posses more of a threat to sites like Wikipedia, where doubts are cast on the validity of the information as anyone can serve as a contributor.

Below is a preview of Wolfram Alpha presented by Stephen Wolfram:

On the net:

Follow Stephen Wolfram’s blog for updates on the release of Wolfram Alpha:

www.blog.wolfram.com

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