New search engine goes liveWolfram Alpha aims to answer tricky questions

18 May 2009

Wolfram Alpha, a new type of search engine goes live on the web today. The self-dubbed 'answer engine' claims it will give access to parts of the web that rivals, such as Google, find hard to reach.

The difference, claim its developers, lies in Wolfram Alpha’s ability to crunch together several Gigabytes of data. A basic web search asking the distance of the earth from the moon would produce a list of pages displaying the accepted average distance (around 240,000 miles). By comparison, Wolfram Alpha would combine your exact location and the current date and time to produce an exact distance.

‘You have to have the algorithms for orbital mechanics to work out how far away the moon is at a given time,’ says Jon McLoone, sales and marketing manager for Wolfram Europe.

Wolfram Alpha is based on Wolfram’s Mathematica, computational software, which quickly combines information from a variety of different sources to create a unique answer.

You could for example ask Wolfram Alpha how the GDP of Japan compared to the EU and get a direct comparison. Using a search engine, you would have to find out first the GDP of the whole of Europe, then the GDP of Japan, and then perform your own calculations.

McLoone believes Wolfram Alpha will be useful for people who are looking for ‘systematic factual information, not opinions such as digital camera reviews.’

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