Wolfram Alpha computation knowledge engine logo

Wolfram Alpha computation knowledge engine logoYou might think that launching a search engine these days, when “googling” has become a verb, would be a waste of time. You, however, are not British physicist Stephen Wolfram, who has thought up Wolfram Alpha, a new engine that is now live.

Wolfram Alpha is a “computation knowledge engine” rather than a search engine – the idea is that it gives you direct answers to questions rather than sending you off to a site that might know. 

So if you asked, say, what the weather’s like in Oxford, you’d get a graph of average temperatures, rainfall data and the like.

The site works out its answers by taking data from databases and consulting feeds of relevant information, chosen by staff at Wolfram Research, who make sure it can be displayed by the system.

Wolfram Alpha has about 10,000 CPUs spread across five data centres to draw on for its answers.

The launch has received a mixed response, with American websites claiming it excellent in some ways and inadequate in others.  ZDNet, for instance, noted:

“A simple search for the world ‘veracity’ yields the definition, word origin, pronunciation, hyphenation, and a synonym. A Google search for the same word gives me my choices of online dictionaries.

A search for ‘characters on lost’ returns, ‘Wolfram Alpha isn’t sure what to do with your input.’ Google gave me everything I needed to know about the show.”

Trusted Reviews, meanwhile, said, “there remains no doubt Wolfram Alpha represents a quantum leap forward in compiling data and the next time I need cold hard facts I suspect it is Wikipedia, not Google, which might feel the pinch.”