Is Wolfram Alpha a Google killer?

Sneak preview of computational search engine

A natural language-based web tool that provides direct answers to people's questions is scheduled to launch in May, and technology watchers predict it could rival Google.

The soon-to-be released 'computational knowledge engine' Wolfram Alpha answers questions, often by doing complex computations, according to its inventor British scientist Stephen Wolfram.

Dr Wolfram, creator of Mathematica, gave a demonstration of the new tool at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

Unlike traditional search engines, like Google, which display web pages in response to a query, the free program aims to answer questions directly. It uses 'natural language processing' algorithms when searching to allow users to input queries in natural English, in the same way they might ask a question in a conversation.

The program can be used to find out simple facts as well as solving mathematical equations, plot scientific figures and collate different statistics to create new figures, such as the GDP of a country.

In his demonstration, Wolfram typed in the question 'What is the GPD of France divided by Italy?' and the engine replied with the correct answer and supported with graphs and other statistics.

"Our goal is to make expert knowledge accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime," said Dr Wolfram at the demonstration.

"Like interacting with an expert, it will understand what you're talking about, do the computation, and then present you with the results."

Technology watchers have touted the search engine as being as important to the web as Google.

ReadWriteWeb predicts it will be a useful tool, but it won't be a Google killer, "because it is so different it really doesn't directly compete with [Google] at all".

Nova Spivak, founder of the web tool Twine, wrote earlier this year: "[Wolfram Alpha] doesn't simply return documents that (might) contain the answers, like Google does, and it isn't just a giant database of knowledge, like the Wikipedia.... It doesn't simply parse natural language and then use that to retrieve documents, like Powerset, for example."

Wolfram Alpha will be made publicly available later this month.

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