Wolfram Alpha has been covered recently by everyone from ZDNet's own Larry Dignan, to Techmeme, to Ars Technica, with varying degrees of enthusiasm and skepticism.
Most of us in Ed Tech will recognize the name Wolfram from Mathematica fame and Wolfram's Math World. The former is complex, but incredibly powerful software for mathematical investigations and visualizations and has made its way into a lot of high school and college math classrooms (as well as into industrial applications). The latter is the everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-math-but-were-afraid-to-ask website and is a huge resource for instructors and students at all levels of mathematics (beyond elementary school, at least).
Wolfram Alpha, to be launched in May, is intended to do for search what Mathematica did for math software. I won't requote Wolfram or the various analysts; their thoughts can all be found in the links above. The key point to take home, though, is that Alpha is designed to synthesize huge amounts of data on the Web and answer questions.
Obviously, Google can do this too, but the question "What was the price of oil on February 3, 2007" yields over 19 million answers on Google. In theory, Wolfram Alpha should give you one hit: the answer to your question.
Perhaps the real question to be asking is whether this is a good thing for Ed Tech. Do we want students to develop good search skills to navigate the incredible amount of data available to them on the web? Or is this the future of search and a new, powerful tool for students and teachers?
I think it's going to be the latter. NMC's Horizon Report points to semantic-aware search as one of the top technologies to watch in the next 4-5 years. If Alpha works as planned, it's already here. Regardless, this is a serious step closer to allowing students to retrieve data quickly and easily from the Web, without wasting time on fruitless searches. In fact, this will put students a lot closer to the information nirvana promised by the Internet, in which they can simply get and use the information they need without having to weed through countless pages of ad-driven nonsense.