Wolfram Alpha is almost like plugging into a vast electronic brain. It provides very sophisticated and and thorough answers to a wide range of questions asked in many different ways, and it computes answers, it doesn’t merely look them up in a big search index. So its very much smarter than (and different from) Google. Google simply retrieves documents based on keyword searches. Google doesn’t understand the question or the answer, and doesn’t compute answers based on models of various fields of human knowledge. So its look like we are almost reaching a Web 4.0 stage, when a search engine is smart enough to understand what a search query really means.
But obviously its knowledge is very limited at this stage, but the engines does look promising and may eventually be taken over by Google. (Google loves to eat up anything that has any potential in their field). Below I have a simple screen shot of how the interface looks like:
How does it work?
Well, Wolfram basically gathers important data based on your search terms and presents you with the answers in a pre-formatted structure, using a lot of charts, graphs and other visual aids. For instance, if you want to compare stats about different cities, you type in their names and find out that, say, Delhi has several thousand more people than New York.
How is Wolfram Alpha useful?
If you are doing research about very specific subjects then this could be a great resource, once Wolfram Research beefs up its informational sources. It lays out the data in easy-to-read, well-formatted pages that include a variety of charts and graphs. For example, if you try typing “Hubble,” it will first ask you whether you mean ‘a unit’ or the ‘telescope’. So if you select telescope it will bring up a lot of interesting facts about the Hubble Space Telescope, including its current position and original launch date etc. So basically the engine is intelligent enough to understand what the search term means and how it is related to other words.
Nova Spivack who is the current CEO of Radar Networks has shared some useful insights as to how the Wolfram’s search engine works:
Wolfram Alpha is a system for computing the answers to questions. To accomplish this it uses built-in models of fields of knowledge, complete with data and algorithms, that represent real-world knowledge. For example, it contains formal models of much of what we know about science — massive amounts of data about various physical laws and properties, as well as data about the physical world. Based on this you can ask it scientific questions and it can compute the answers for you. Even if it has not been programmed explicity to answer each question you might ask it. But science is just one of the domains it knows about–it also knows about technology, geography, weather, cooking, business, travel, people, music, and more. It also has a natural language interface for asking it questions. This interface allows you to ask questions in plain language, or even in various forms of abbreviated notation, and then provides detailed answers. The vision seems to be to create a system which can do for formal knowledge (all the formally definable systems, heuristics, algorithms, rules, methods, theorems, and facts in the world) what search engines have done for informal knowledge (all the text and documents in various forms of media).
Well definitely its not a “google-killer” and I bet wolfram is not even interested to go into any competition with Google. They are just filling up a vacuum in the search industry. I wonder what will be Google’s next move – Buy Wolfram!Alpha.. or improve their own engine?
Share your thoughts!