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'Intelligent' computational knowledge search engine to make its debut

May 18, 2009

by Mark Ollig

Google has more or less been anointed by many of us as the search engine of choice when we are looking for information over the Internet.

However, another player has emerged in this ever-expanding cyberspace cloud who would like to play too – and possibly give the number one contender, Google, a run for their money.

This new search engine is called “WolframAlpha,” or sometimes spelled as Wolfram|Alpha.

Yes, it’s an interesting name; however I have been assured WolframAlpha is not a storybook creature that is part “wolf” or part fictional character “Alpha One” from the DC Comics world.

The online community of bloggers has shortened the name to simply “Alpha.”

Alpha is a bit different from a normal” search engine, because it computes answers and provides pictorial visualizations “on-the-fly” from a knowledge base of collected and structured data.

The main difference between it and Google is that Alpha was designed for intelligent researching of our queries and will search out and bring back to us the results only pertaining to our specific questions. Alpha has the potential to be the smartest search engine on the web, unlike Google, which brings us all cross-referenced related information – in any order – to us when we search.

Alpha incorporates algorithmic “intelligence” when providing us information.

The “Wolfram Alpha Computational Knowledge Engine” is the creation of physicist Stephen Wolfram.

Wikipedia says Stephen Wolfram was born in 1959 in London and is a British physicist, mathematician, and businessman known for his work in theoretical particle physics, cosmology, cellular automata, complexity theory, and computer algebra.

Wolfram also created the computational software program called Mathematica.

According to Wolfram, the new WolframAlpha search engine is “a hugely complex piece of technology; certainly one of the most complex web-based services ever constructed. We’ve sought advice from many experts as we’ve designed its infrastructure and technology management processes.”

Your humble columnist has been following the latest news about the upcoming launch of Alpha on Twitter. You can, too, by following “Wolfram_Alpha” which is their Twitter name.

WolframAlpha will have made their first attempt to go live Friday evening, May 15.

Since I am writing this column Thursday, I will need to report in more detail the success (or failure) of Alpha on the Web Site of The Week forum. I will post some video and picture snapshots of the new WolframAlpha in action.

Friday evening, May 15 over at www.justin.tv, they will have webcasted the live turn-up, so I will record parts of that webcast and have it available on the Web Site of The Week, so you can watch it as it happened.

This webcast will show them working through checklists, doing final testing of the infrastructure, and, hopefully, releasing the new Alpha search engine to the public by activating the web site.

The Justin TV video feed will also have included behind-the-scenes views of what it’s taken to create WolframAlpha.

If all went according to plan, they will have activated WolframAlpha live onto the public web for the first time by the time you are reading this on the newspaper’s printed page.

The new WolframAlpha web site is http://www.wolframalpha.com.

Make sure you are typing in wolfRAMalpha as opposed to wolfMANalpha.

The WolframAlpha Justin TV broadcast channel is located at www.justin.tv/wolframalpha. Hopefully, they will have some archive video from Friday evening available.

I have been reading the WolframAlpha blog and this is one of the descriptions they have put out about this new search engine: “Although it’s tempting to think of WolframAlpha as a place to look up facts, that’s only part of the story.

The thing that truly sets WolframAlpha apart is that it is able to do sophisticated computations for you, both pure computations involving numbers or formulas you enter, and computations applied automatically to data called up from its repositories.”

Alpha’s computational algorithms are important because computation or calculation is what turns basic information into exact answers.

Alpha also uses Natural language processing (NLP) which is a field of computer science related to the exchanges between computers and human (natural) languages.

The more I read about Alpha, the more exciting it is, because this search engine will be far different than what folks have been using, and it may even become revolutionary in the annuals of search engine history!

For more about Stephen Wolfram, visit http://www.wolfram.com.

I hope you will also visit this week’s Web Site of The Week, where your cyber friend and host, the Bits_blogger, will present highlights and more information about the launch of the new WolframAlpha search engine.