Sunday, July 19, 2009

Wolfram|Alpha - Making all the World's Systematic Knowledge Computable

Google today has become synonymous with "Search". Don't many of us use the phrase - "Google it"? Market shares of Google Search in most countries has been seen to be 80% and more , with few exceptions such as China - 26% (market leader-baidu), South Korea - 3% (market leader-Naver). Thus, one thing's clear - most of us don't go beyond Google when it comes to searching for data over the internet. Is it because Google is the best, or is it because human beings are used to comfort zones and don't always like change? Haven't we seen it in many other cases (Mobile Tele. - Nokia; OS - Windows)? Anyway, I'm not here to study human psychology or evaluate Google's competence, though that might be an interesting area of research in strategy or marketing :). I'm scribbling today to speak about a new search engine I came across recently - Wolfram Alpha.

Named after it's creator Mr. Stephen Wolfram, Wolfram|Alpha (That name may not go too well with Indians! WolfRam??) was launched in May 2009. Wolfram Alpha, unlike google calls itself an "Answer Engine". What's that supposed to mean?? Well essentially, a user would key in a computational query like "San Francisco to Tokyo" and Wolfram's responses would give you data such as distance, flight time, path, city details, etc. It computes and infers these answers using a core knowledge base of curated, structured data. In a way, Wolfram resembles Cyc, an artificial intelligence project that began in 1984 and aimed at assembling common sense knowledge to perform human-like reasoning. Wolfram|Alpha is built on Wolfram's flagship product, Mathematica, a computational software program used in scientific, engineering, mathematical and other areas of technical computing.

Boring? Too technical? Well I'll tell you something interesting about Wolfram... It responds like a human being! So you can ask Wolfram a natural, fact-based question like "How old is Manmohan Singh?" and you'll be given the answer accurate to the day. To have fun, you can try out some of these questions with Wolfram:
1. Who are you?
2. Who is your father?
3. Who am I?
4. Where am I?

Though it's only been 2 months since it's birth and Wolfram has loads to learn, this infant is a fast learner. The data it presently possesses is by no means small. Try keying in "India" or "Microsoft Apple" and see the response! Wolfram also provides you an option to convert and store your query's answer as a pdf. If you still think Wolfram isn't the cool new kid on the block, then check out his very own blog and see what else he can do!

About the Creator - Stephen Wolfram:
Born in London in 1959, Stephen Wolfram is a distinguished scientist, inventor, author and business leader. Wolfram's early scientific work was mainly in the areas of high-energy physics, quantum field theory and cosmology. A PhD holder at the age of 20, Wolfram has devoted his life to Research & Education. It was in late 1986 that he began his research on Mathematica , which has been hailed as a major advance in Computing. Currently, Wolfram is the President & CEO of his company Wolfram Research.

When computers were initially launched, it was imagined that they would eventually have the capability to answer questions the way Wolfram|Alpha does today. Hopefully, this "Answer Engine" is a giant leap towards the quest of making all knowledge computational!

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1 comment:

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