Wolfram Alpha, a new search engine based on Wolfram Research’s Mathematica formula, is due for release this month. If you watch the demo above, you’ll see that Wolfram Alpha is able to process questions in natural language–the way humans ask them. There’s no translating required, as there often is in Google searches. Wolfram Alpha generates results that include graphs, charts, and detailed explanations.
Physicist Stephen Wolfram explains what makes the Wolfram Alpha search engine different in a blog post:
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.
The way humans normally communicate is through natural language. And when one’s dealing with the whole spectrum of knowledge, I think that’s the only realistic option for communicating with computers too.
Of course, getting computers to deal with natural language has turned out to be incredibly difficult. One needs to…take questions people ask in natural language, and represent them in a precise form that fits into the computations one can do.
But I’m happy to say that with a mixture of many clever algorithms and heuristics, lots of linguistic discovery and linguistic curation, and what probably amount to some serious theoretical breakthroughs, we’re actually managing to make it work.
Lifehacker explains why Wolfram Alpha may beat Wikipedia, but not Google:
Don’t think of Wolfram Alpha as a Google Killer, though, because frankly Google doesn’t really have anything like it—except for maybe Google’s new public data search, which, while impressive, doesn’t look nearly as robust as Wolfram Alpha. (Then again, we’ll have to wait and see how well Wolfram Alpha works when it gets in the hands of the public.) Either way, Google will still corner the market on most normal search. (We’re not always looking for the kind of answers Wolfram Alpha provides when we hit up Google.) As for how this editor uses Google and Wikipedia, I’d actually imagine that Wolfram Alpha could be more of a Wikipedia competitor than a Google competitor.
I would add that most competitors with consistently accurate information stand a chance of beating Wikipedia.
Keep an eye on WolfromAlpha.com, which launches sometime this month, to test it out yourself.