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Wolfram|Alpha – Computatinal Knowledge Engine

Wolfram|Alpha is the engine to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. It aims 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. Its goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematization 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. It will accept completely free-form input, and to serve as a knowledge engine that generates powerful results and presents them with maximum clarity.

Stephen Wolfram, whose Mathematical programme is widely used throughout the science world, gave the details of his new computational search engine, named Wolfram Alpha in an online presentation. The company says the technology will go public on May 18, 2009.

Computer experts believe the new search engine will be an evolutionary leap in the development of the internet. Wolfram Alpha could prove just as important as Google. “It is really impressive and significant,” the British daily quoted Spivack as saying. “In fact it may be as important for the web (and the world) as Google, but for a different purpose.”

Wolfram Alpha will not only give a straight answer to questions such as “how high is Mount Everest?”, but it will also produce a neat page of related information such as geographical location and nearby towns, and other mountains, complete with graphs and charts. If you ask it to compare the height of Mt Everest to the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, it will tell you, says its inventor, Stephen Wolfram, who’s based in US.

Wolfram added that the information is “curated”, meaning it is assessed first by experts. This means that the weaknesses of sites such as Wikipedia, where doubts are cast on the information because anyone can contribute, are taken out. It is based on his best-selling Mathematica software, a standard tool for scientists, engineers and academics for crunching complex maths. The engine, which will be free to use, works by drawing on the knowledge on the internet, as well as private databases.

Unlike Google, which automatically indexes billions of web pages to answer users’ search queries, Wolfram Alpha uses sophisticated algorithms to attempt to understand user questions, and then uses the resources stored in its expert-curated database to offer up answers and relevant information.

“The idea is to try and bring expert-level knowledge to everyone,” said Wolfram.

The result is very different from Google, which primarily points users in the direction of web pages. Wolfram Alpha, in contrast, displays information that it calculates by itself and shows in useful formats, offering numerous options for users to dig deeper into the subject.

It can answer questions like what is the fish production in Italy, and what was the weather in London on the day John F Kennedy was killed. But because it relies on verified data in its system rather than an ad hoc search of the internet, there are big gaps in its knowledge, especially in pop culture and information that frequently changes, such as film showings.

“We are just at the beginning,” said Wolfram. “I think we’ve got a reasonable start on 90 percent of the shelves in a typical reference library.”

This new tool will reflect the growing reach of emerging artificial intelligence and “a step towards a self-organizing internet” that intuitively understands what users need from it.

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