Stephen Wolfram’s search engine to take on Google


The inventor of one of the most widely used science programmes has given the most detailed demonstration yet of a new search engine that many experts predict could revolutionise the way information is used on the Internet.

Stephen Wolfram, whose Mathematical programme is widely used throughout the science world, gave the details of his new computational search engine, named Wolfram Alpha in an online presentation. The company says the technology will go public on May 18.

Unlike Google, which automatically indexes billions of web pages to answer users’ search queries, Wolfram Alpha uses sophisticated algorithms to attempt to understand user questions, and then uses the resources stored in its expert-curated database to offer up answers and relevant information.

“The idea is to try and bring expert-level knowledge to everyone,” said Wolfram.

The result is very different from Google, which primarily points users in the direction of web pages. Wolfram Alpha, in contrast, displays information that it calculates by itself and shows in useful formats, offering numerous options for users to dig deeper into the subject.

It can answer questions like how high is Mt Everest, what is the fish production in Italy, and what was the weather in London on the day John F Kennedy was killed. But because it relies on verified data in its system rather than an ad hoc search of the internet, there are big gaps in its knowledge, especially in pop culture and information that frequently changes, such as film showings.

“We are just at the beginning,” said Wolfram, 49. “I think we’ve got a reasonable start on 90 percent of the shelves in a typical reference library.”

Experts like Tom Simpson, on the blog Convergenceofeverything.com, said that rather than displacing Google, the new tool reflected the growing reach of emerging artificial intelligence and “a step towards a self-organising internet” that intuitively understands what users need from it.

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