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Google: Looking over shoulder at Wolfram|Alpha?

Google's Sergey Brin, co-founder and president of the search giant, on Thursday delivered the company's annual "Founders' Letter" and apparently is keeping a watchful eye on Wolfram|Alpha.If you recall, Wolfram|Alpha is a much ballyhooed search tool that claims to understand what a user is asking via algorithms.
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Written by Larry Dignan on

Google's Sergey Brin, co-founder and president of the search giant, on Thursday delivered the company's annual "Founders' Letter" and apparently is keeping a watchful eye on Wolfram|Alpha.

If you recall, Wolfram|Alpha is a much ballyhooed search tool that claims to understand what a user is asking via algorithms. 

Wolfram|Alpha's elevator pitch:

Wolfram|Alpha is an ambitious long-term project to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable to anyone.  You enter your question or calculation and Wolfram|Alpha uses its built-in algorithms and growing collection of data to compute the answer.

And in a presentation at Harvard, Wolfram|Alpha creator Stephen Wolfram said:

“What we’re trying to do is take all the things that can be computed about the world…and try and package it to the point where we can just walk up to a web site and have it deliver the knowledge we’d like to have. Like interacting with an expert it will understand what you are talking about, do the computation and present to you results.”  

Now enter Brin (emphasis mine):

While I am proud of what has been accomplished in search over the past decade, there are important areas in which I wish we had made more progress. Perfect search requires human-level artificial intelligence, which many of us believe is still quite distant. However, I think it will soon be possible to have a search engine that "understands" more of the queries and documents than we do today. Others claim to have accomplished this, and Google's systems have more smarts behind the curtains than may be apparent from the outside, but the field as a whole is still shy of where I would have expected it to be. Part of the reason is the dramatic growth of the web — for any particular query, it is likely there are many documents on the topic using the exact same vocabulary. And as the web grows, so does the breadth and depth of the curiosity of those searching. I expect our search engine to become much "smarter" in the coming decade.

Is that a veiled Wolfram|Alpha reference? Sure sounds like it.

Screenshots: a tour of Wolfram Alpha

Brin also talks about better search interfaces, which are being pitched by Wolfram|Alpha too. 

It's premature to say that Google is really worried about Wolfram|Alpha, but clearly the fledgling effort has captured Brin's eye. That's a sign of a good company. It would be much more worrisome if Google wasn't looking over its shoulder.

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