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The Search Engine as Electronic Brain: Wolfram Alpha goes Live in May

Posted by rjbiii on March 11, 2009

CNet blogger Dan Farber discusses the upcoming release of Stephen Wolfram’s latest venture: a new search engine that is being touted as a breakthrough:
[Entrepreneur Nova] Spivack gave some insight 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).

As the article mentions, Wolfram is the creator of Mathematica, and the writer of a book (not always warmly received) entitled A New Kind of Science.

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