A revolutionary new search engine that computes answers rather than pointing to websites will be launched officially today amid heated talk that it could challenge the might of Google.
WolframAlpha, named after Stephen Wolfram, the British-born computer scientist and inventor behind the project, takes a query and uses computational power to crunch through huge databases
The service can compute the distance between two cities, the population of a country at a specific date and the position of the Space Shuttle at a given moment. The user does not have to search through links provided by the engine; the answer comes immediately and, if appropriate, is accompanied by charts or graphs. What it does that Google, at the moment, cannot do is provide answers to questions that have not been answered already.
The new service, available at wolframalpha.com, was previewed several months ago amid industry speculation that it could be a “Google killer”. Dr Wolfram, however, is at pains to point out that his brainchild is a “computational knowledge engine”, not a traditional search engine.
A physics prodigy who earned a PhD aged 20, Dr Wolfram, 49, founded Wolfram Research, in Illinois, which develops advanced software called Mathematica, used mainly by scientists. Mathematica has built up a number of databases and Wolfram Alpha is an attempt to bring them to a wider audience.
The service is free but the company plans to include advertising eventually and to offer paid versions with extra features. Dr Wolfram said that WolframAlpha was a “long-term project” and he hoped to broaden the databases that it uses.
Danny Sullivan, editor-in-chief of Search Engine Land, the website, said: “They’re saying they’re not trying to wipe out Google, but they feel they do the kinds of searches that Google doesn’t handle. If you’re trying to get facts, this might be a handy kind of encyclopedia for you.”
Last week Google previewed a new experimental service called Google Squared, which will automatically produce spreadsheets of information from search terms.
Interesting, but not really a challenge to Google yet. I mostly get this answer: Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input.