The much anticipated WolframAlpha has been released. Billed as a computational knowledge engine, the new, free web service is available online at http://www.wolframalpha.com and is developed by Wolfram Research (producers of the popular computational software program Mathematica).
WolframAlpha is not a search engine and is not directly comparable to services such as Google. The power of WolframAlpha is its ability to draw upon multiple data sources and compute answers. While Google searches for information, WolframAlpha computes an answer.
Take, for example the topic of “body mass index” or BMI. A search in Google will produce (at last count) over 15 million results, some of which will include a BMI calculator. To calculate your BMI, you will need to select a source, trust that the calculator is accurate, find the calculator on the referred website and input the data. The same search in WolframAlph will retrieve an input box that will calculate the information directly and provide comparison graphs and distributions. What the user will not find in Wolfram Alpha is an extended discussion of the use of BMI or its history. Examples of other types of searches are available online.
WolframAlpha does not replace search engines such as Google. Instead, it provides a complimentary option that is ideally suited for queries that require a computation or involves a comparison of quantifiable data.
The Berkman Institute hosted a presentation by Stephen Woflram, creator of WolframAlpha, that provides additional background information on the philosophy and development of the knowledge engine. The presentation is available on YouTube. You can also try WolframAlpha for yourself:
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