Wolfram Alpha: 'A new paradigm for using computers and the web'

Another week another Google killer. Last week, it was Twitter as Google killer.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Another week another Google killer. Last week, it was Twitter as Google killer. This week it's Wolfam Alpha. The difference with Wolfram Alpha is that it has the pedigree, engineering heft and perhaps a better mousetrap to actually live up to the billing.

Techmeme is a flutter with talk of Wolfram Alpha. Dan Farber notes that Stephen Wolfram is a scientist who has recorded a few breakthroughs and a little controversy. In a nutshell, Wolfram Alpha blends natural language, a new search model and an algorithm that takes all the data on the Web and makes it "computable." Wolfram just recently outlined his latest creation and added:

I think it’s going to be pretty exciting. A new paradigm for using computers and the web.

Dan writes about Wolfram:

He received his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Caltech in 1979 when he was 20 and has focused most of his career on probing complex systems. In 1988 he launched Mathematica, powerful computational software that has become the gold standard in its field. In 2002, Wolfram produced a 1,280-page tome, A New Kind of Science, based on a decade of exploration in cellular automata and complex systems.

In May, Wolfram will launch Wolfram Alpha, which is dubbed a computational knowledge engine. It's pretty clear, what Web giant Wolfram Alpha is targeting:

Look familiar?

For the brainiacs in the house, Nova Spivak has a long post outlining Wolfram Alpha (it's a must read). Simply put, if Spivak's outline is only half on target Wolfram Alpha could be big.

Spivak writes:

In a nutshell, Wolfram and his team have built what he calls a "computational knowledge engine" for the Web. OK, so what does that really mean? Basically it means that you can ask it factual questions and it computes answers for you.

It doesn't simply return documents that (might) contain the answers, like Google does, and it isn't just a giant database of knowledge, like the Wikipedia. It doesn't simply parse natural language and then use that to retrieve documents, like Powerset, for example.

Instead, Wolfram Alpha actually computes the answers to a wide range of questions -- like questions that have factual answers such as "What country is Timbuktu in?" or "How many protons are in a hydrogen atom?" or "What is the average rainfall in Seattle this month?," "What is the 300th digit of Pi?," "where is the ISS?" or "When was GOOG worth more than $300?"

Think about that for a minute. It computes the answers. Wolfram Alpha doesn't simply contain huge amounts of manually entered pairs of questions and answers, nor does it search for answers in a database of facts. Instead, it understands and then computes answers to certain kinds of questions.

Spivak later mentions that Wolfram Alpha isn't designed to be HAL 9000. That's refreshing. Wolfram Alpha sounds impressive, but it would be premature to call it a Google killer though. In fact, if Wolfram Alpha lives up to its billing it will be acquired at some ridiculous price either by Google or some company---Microsoft---looking to kill Google.

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