CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS - The much-anticipated new search tool from Stephen Wolfram, WolframAlpha, is expected to be made available to the public next week.
It's expected to be of most use to academics, at least at first, and looks more like a complement to Google than a rival. It's been created by Stephen Wolfram, the well-known mathematician and author.
Unlike Google, the service doesn't search through web pages on the basis of key words, but instead relies on its own "knowledge base", teamed with an artificial intelligence system. When a user types in a query, WolframAlpha aims to determine the relevant area of knowledge and compute an answer. See what we said before.
Thus, unlike Google, which can only provide information that has already been compiled, WolframAlpha can answer questions that have never been answered before - for instance, "How many Americans live within a mile of a 40-storey building?" Instead of a list of web pages being displayed, the user - ideally - receives a small report which gives a complete and accurate answer to the question.
The knowledge base consists of a huge library, some created in-house, and some licensed. It includes Wikipedia, the US Census and a vast range of reference books.
Google has launched something similar - but very much less comprehensive - Google Public Search. This is based on the government's statistical databases, and automatically responds to questions about US unemployment or population by generating relevant graphs.
Wolfram says he plans to seek advertising and sponsorship for WolframAlpha, and maybe a premium version for researchers that would include extra features, such as the ability to download statistical data directly into a desktop spreadsheet program.
WolframAlpha will be available to download from here.