Has Stephen Wolfram Designed a Better Search Engine?

Stephen Wolfram, the computer genius who authored the computational software Mathematica in 1998 and wrote A New Kind of Science in 2002, has built a new search engine. It's called Wolfram Alpha and it could knock Google from its lofty perch.

As Chris Thompson writes in his Big Money blog, "when his [Wolfram's] search engine launches in May, people can use his simple programs to interact with computers intuitively, using ordinary language to find what they're looking for." Are you ready for this?

As you know, Google has never been very good at getting a computer to answer a simple question, asked in natural language. For example, if you type in, "When did Abraham Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address," the company's algorithms use the keywords in your search, scan the universe of data, and analyze links to rank results, offering you more than 15,000 sites that are relevant to the words you typed, Thompson writes. But Wolfram claims that if you type the same prompt into his new search engine, one thing will appear: The answer, or in this case, "Nov. 19, 1863."

Here's how Wolfram claims to have done it:  All one needs to be able to do is to take questions people ask in natural language, and represent them in a precise form that fits into the computations one can do. ... 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."

Well there you have it. And the Wolfram Alpha website mirrors Google's simplicity: all white space, with one search field for you to ask a simple question. It has Google's format and supposedly will do the one thing not even Google can do: talk to you like a human being.


Will Wolfram Alpha sink Google's ship? That's a question of genius and marketing, notes Thompson. But we are in the middle of an economic crisis and we all know what that means...everything is changing!

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