Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wolfram Alpha, Google and the future of Internet search engines

Wolfram Alpha founder Stephen Wolfram
Wolfram Alpha page

A brand-new “search engine” called Wolfram Alpha, although it doesn’t call itself a “search engine”, is taking the world – Papua New Guinea included - by storm since its launch last Friday. Just a few days into its launch and Wolfram Alpha,, has already been compared to Google and Wikepedia, or some hybrid of the two.
I first heard of the launch of Wolfram Alpha on Channel Nine’s Today Show on EMTV a couple of days ago, while downing a cup of coffee before catching a PMV (bus) to work in Port Moresby, and was immediately hooked
I checked it out on the Internet and found out that, in short, the engine takes a term, like our capital city of "Port Moresby" or my birth date of “August 9, 1967", and instantly produces a scientific report with details (like up-to-date city population, map, current local time, temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and approximate elevation culled from its extensive internal knowledge base.
I also found out that August 9, 1967, was a Wednesday; that I am now 41 years, nine months and 13 days old; that my birth day was the 221st day of 1967; I share the same birth day as American footballer Deion Sanders; and that I was born at the phase of a waxing crescent moon.
In other words, Wolfram Alpha’s not a search engine, which produces articles as results.
It's a knowledge engine that produces answers with explicit information.
It's still a work in progress, but the unveiling is enough to make some question whether it will change the way we search the Internet.But Wolfram Alpha really does provide answers.
No URLs come back in the results, only a page of often dizzyingly detailed and up-to-date information, like a research report culled by mad scientists with complete access to a universal library.
“Wolfram Alpha's long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone,” the engine says on its home page.
“We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything.
“Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematisations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.
“Wolfram Alpha aims to bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people—spanning all professions and education levels.
“Our goal is to accept completely free-form input, and to serve as a knowledge engine that generates powerful results and presents them with maximum clarity.
“Wolfram Alpha is an ambitious, long-term intellectual endeavor that we intend will deliver increasing capabilities over the years and decades to come.
“With a world-class team and participation from top outside experts in countless fields, our goal is to create something that will stand as a major milestone of 21st century intellectual achievement.”
What has now made Wolfram Alpha possible today is a somewhat unique set of circumstances—and the singular vision of Stephen Wolfram.
Stephen Wolfram is a distinguished scientist, inventor, author, and business leader.
Born August 29, 1959 in London, Wolfram is a British physicist, mathematician, author and businessman, known for his work in theoretical particle physics, cosmology, cellular automata, complexity theory, and computer algebra
He is the creator of Mathematica, the author of A New Kind of Science (NKS), the creator of Wolfram Alpha, and the founder and CEO of Wolfram Research.
His career has been characterised by a sequence of original and significant achievements.
“For the first time in history, we have computers that are powerful enough to support the capabilities of Wolfram Alpha, and we have the web as a broad-based means of delivery,” the home page continues.
“But this technology alone was not enough to make Wolfram Alpha possible.
“What was needed were also two developments that have been driven by Stephen Wolfram over the course of nearly 30 years.
“The first was Mathematica—the system in which all of Wolfram Alpha is implemented.
“Mathematica has three crucial roles in Wolfram Alpha.
“First, its very general symbolic language provides the framework in which all the diverse knowledge of Wolfram Alpha is represented, and all its capabilities are implemented.
“Second, Mathematica's vast web of built-in algorithms provides the computational foundation that makes it even conceivably practical to implement the methods and models of so many fields. “And finally, the strength of Mathematica as a software engineering and deployment platform makes it possible to take the technical achievements of Wolfram Alpha and deliver them broadly and robustly.
“Beyond Mathematica, another key to Wolfram Alpha was NKS.
“Many specific ideas from NKS—particularly related to algorithms discovered by exploring the computational universe—are used in the implementation of Wolfram Alpha.
“But still more important is that the very paradigm of NKS was crucial in imagining that Wolfram Alpha might be possible.
“Wolfram Alpha represents a substantial technical and intellectual achievement.
“But to build it required not just unique technology and ideas, but also the experience of 20 years of long-term R&D and ongoing development of robust technology at Wolfram Research.
“Wolfram Alpha’s world-class team draws from many fields and disciplines, and has unique access to experts across the globe.
“But what ultimately made Wolfram Alpha possible was a singular commitment to the goal of making all the world's systematic knowledge computable.”

1 comment:

  1. Ereen268:41 AM

    Wolfram Alpha - great geek tool for mathematicians, academics, statisticians, etc. but not so much for the average searches like me, I think. Typical searches don't ask for scientific knowledge in most of their searches. Another thing, it's name doesn't sound 'scientific' to me, unlike for a search engine. WA is a great tool for people who deal with calculations though.