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Wolfram Alpha

Updated on August 17, 2009

Introduction

Wolfram Alpha is a new search engine which it has been predicted has the potential to be better than Google. At present only a few individuals are able to use the search engine, but it will be released for use by the general public sometime in May 2009.  This is my page which gives a background to the project, and once I have been able to use the search engine I will give my own review. 

A brief background

Wolfram Alpha is a search engine under development by Stephen Wolfram. He is a famous scientist who had a PhD in theoretical physics, having previously attended Eton School and Oxford University in the UK. Before starting work on the Wolfram Alpha search engine he had written many journal articles on particle physics and published the book A New Kind of Science. Most relevent to the Wolfram Alpha, he had written the computer program Mathmatica which is used by scientists worldwide for computation. The Mathmatica program has been developed by Wolfram Research, a company in which Stephen Wolfram has a majority stake, and this is the same company to have developed the Wolfram Alpha search engine.

A screen-shot of the Wolfram Alpha homepage on 16th March 2009 (prelaunch).
A screen-shot of the Wolfram Alpha homepage on 16th March 2009 (prelaunch).
This is a screenshot of the Wolfram Alpha homepage shortly after launch on 18th May 2009.
This is a screenshot of the Wolfram Alpha homepage shortly after launch on 18th May 2009.

How does Wolfram Alpha work?

The Wolfram Alpha website is based on natural language processing. This means that when searches are carried out Wolfram Alpha will first try and determine exactly what the search is asking. Once Wolfram Alpha has has determined this it will then calculate which is the best response - so called computational programming. As such the Wolfram Alpha system will hopefully give a response that first understands the question being asked in terms of the human language, and then will be able to give the best result based on carrying out this natural language checking of the available datasets and give a response, as shown by the video below. 

If Wolfram Alpha is able to answer the request, it will display the answer within the webpage itself, along with associated information (see picture below). At the present time the program is very much science and mathematics based due to this being where the bulk of the information used is located. For example, whilst it is able to give an answer for the weather in London on Armistice Day 2008, it is not able to give answers for searches alluding to the latest celebrity gossip or other non science based queries such as the search term 'Bristol Balloon Fiesta'.

The results page retrieved when searching for the weather on Armistice Day 2008 in London using Wolfram Alpha.
The results page retrieved when searching for the weather on Armistice Day 2008 in London using Wolfram Alpha.

How do conventional search engines work?

The is different to the way Google and other search engines work. These existing search engines contain millions or billions of webpages on their servers, and then every time a search is performed estimate which page meets the search best based on amongst other things the matching of the search term to the article. Whilst it has changed slightly from this, with Google's Pagerank giving a greater emphasis to more reliable/better perceived websites, the basic principle remains - the search engine uses a lookup program. As such, were a question to be asked in a conventional search engine, there is a chance that a page will be returned as a suitable result, just because it is on a trusted website (eg CNN or the BBC) and has the search for words somewhere on the page. In fact the article may not even be about the search query, but happens to contain all of the desired words from the original search.

My thoughts

Whilst I am yet to try out the idea so far I am encouraged by the reviews it has been getting so far.  For example, the well respected programming expert Nova Spivack has said that it 'Could be as important as Google'.  Whilst I am personally not getting caught up in all the hype, I am desperate to try it out, and will change the review on this page accordingly when I do. 

Comments

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    • profile image

      J Mockridge 

      9 years ago

      Informative work. You learn something new everyday.

    • BristolBoy profile imageAUTHOR

      BristolBoy 

      9 years ago from Bristol

      It will also be interesting to see what affect it has on the traffic to Hubpages!

    • danjutsu profile image

      danjutsu 

      9 years ago from UK

      I dont think it is a Google killer but it is going to take a lot of traffic away from some search engines for sure. Specific questions answered by a global brain is a totaly new level of search engine and i look forward to testing it out!

    • BristolBoy profile imageAUTHOR

      BristolBoy 

      9 years ago from Bristol

      It will definately be good although it would be interesting to see how well it will work. For example if teh question is phrased wrong it will give completely the wrong results and everyone will get really annoyed,

    • BrianS profile image

      Brian Stephens 

      9 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

      Someone trying to understand a human via an algorithm (or two), well he is definitely going to need that PHD, I don't think most humans actually know what they want, me included so he has his work cut out, be good if he can work it out though.

    • earnestshub profile image

      earnestshub 

      9 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Hi BristolBoy, great information. I would love to see another decent search engine.

      Thanks for letting us know about it.

    • BristolBoy profile imageAUTHOR

      BristolBoy 

      9 years ago from Bristol

      It is definately something that I will have to keep an eye on, and of course as I discover more information I will publish it here.

    • Hawkesdream profile image

      Hawkesdream 

      9 years ago from Cornwall

      Hey bristolboy, thanks for the info , look forward to your updates, keep me informed

    • Frieda Babbley profile image

      Frieda Babbley 

      9 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      Exciting. Good info. Thanks.

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