Wolfram Alpha search engine goes live

The web-based application, billed as a 'computational knowledge engine', was officially launched on Monday

The data search and computation engine Wolfram Alpha has gone live.

The web-based application, which is billed as a 'computational knowledge engine', went live for testing on Friday and was officially launched on Monday.

"Fifty years ago, when computers were young, people assumed that they'd be able to ask a computer any factual question, and have it compute the answer," Stephen Wolfram, the founder and chief executive of Wolfram Research, said in a statement. "I'm happy to say that we've successfully built a system that delivers knowledge from a simple input field, giving access to a huge system, with trillions of pieces of curated data and millions of lines of algorithms."

Wolfram Alpha allows users to input a query to obtain statistical and other data around a search term. Instead of returning a list of web pages, like a search engine, search terms are returned with contextualised results from Wolfram's systems. Users can request statistical data for a specific city, or compare the stock market performance of two companies, for example.

In the Wolfram Alpha FAQs on the company website, the firm noted that it was also different from Wikipedia in the way search results are given. Whereas Wikipedia gives most results in a "narrative", Wolfram presents most of its results as statistics or data.

After a period of testing, Wolfram Alpha will be made available in two flavours. The free-to-use analysis engine will continue to be available to general users, while a subscription service will be made available for commercial use.

Wolfram Alpha APIs are available for developers, while webmasters can download a box for the analysis engine to embed in their sites.

The Wolfram Alpha site is based on Wolfram Research's Mathematica software. Mathematica, which has been under development for approximately two decades, is a technical-data computation, presentation and analysis suite.

The software supporting Wolfram Alpha is running on approximately 10,000 processor cores in five co-location facilities. Wolfram Research is using Dell hardware administered by R Systems, a business-processes outsourcing company, and earlier this month said that Wolfram Alpha is running on the world 66th-fastest supercomputer.

Wolfram Alpha

 
Wolfram Alpha allows users to input a query to obtain statistical and other data around a search term