17 May 2009

A search engine that computes answers instead of looking them up

The latest internet search engine is Wolfram Alpha. Instead of serving up a list of popular links to other sites that contain the search term picked by a user, Alpha is a more-or-less closed system. It tries to dissect a question into its components and then performs calculations, using its own source materials, to compute an answer. The results are presented as a sleek collage of tables, charts and graphics. Alpha takes a different approach to the automation or "crowdsourcing" normally used to generate knowledge from the web. In that sense it is more like (and may be more threatening to) Wikipedia than Google.