How’s “Wolfram Alpha” different from Google and other search engines?

It's a true computational knowledge engine; it computes knowledge; it replies a wide range of questions; doesn't merely look them up in a big database; it's more intelligent than Google; these are some of the "lines" that are being used to describe Stephen Wolfram's most novel creation "Wolfram Alpha".

Widely known for his works in theoretical particle physics, cosmology, cellular automata, complexity theory, and computer algebra, the British physicist, mathematician and software entrepreneur, Stephen Wolfram is now gearing up to unveil his "unbelievable knowledge search engine" called Wolfram Alpha. Stephen is expected to reveal his latest creation in May.

According to Stephen Wolfram, Wolfram Alpha search engine will be different from Google and other search engines. Wolfram Alpha will offer exact answer, instead of showing up the links to pages that may (or may not) contain the answer, like Google and other search engines. It'll be like typing a question and getting the right answer.

Explaining Wolfram Alpha on his blog, Stephen Wolfram wrote, "All one needs to be able to do is to take questions people ask in natural language, and represent them in a precise form that fits into the computations one can do. I'm happy to say that with a mixture of many clever algorithms and heuristics, lots of linguistic discovery and linguistic curation, and what probably amount to some serious theoretical breakthroughs, we're actually managing to make it work … It's going to be a website: www. wolframalpha. com. With one simple input field that gives access to a huge system, with trillions of pieces of curated data and millions of lines of algorithms."

Entrepreneur, semantic web pioneer, and a tech watcher, Nova Spivack who recently interviewed Wolfram, explained how the Wolfram engine works. Spivack said, "Wolfram Alpha is like plugging into a vast electronic brain. It provides extremely impressive and thorough answers to a wide range of questions asked in many different ways, and it computes answers, it doesn't merely look them up in a big database. … In this respect it is vastly smarter than (and different from) Google. Google simply retrieves documents based on keyword searches. Google doesn't understand the question or the answer, and doesn't compute answers based on models of various fields of human knowledge."

Spivack elaborated that Wolfram Alpha actually computes the answers to a wide range of questions -- like questions that have factual answers such as "What country is Timbuktu in?" or "How many protons are in a hydrogen atom?" or "What is the average rainfall in Seattle this month?," "What is the 300th digit of Pi?," "where is the ISS?" or "When was GOOG worth more than $300?"

"Think about that for a minute. It computes the answers. Wolfram Alpha doesn't simply contain huge amounts of manually entered pairs of questions and answers, nor does it search for answers in a database of facts. Instead, it understands and then computes answers to certain kinds of questions," said Spivack, the founder of EarthWeb, Radar Networks, the San Francisco Web Innovators Network (SFWIN), and Lucid Ventures.

When asked, what types of questions does Wolfram Alpha "compute the answers" to? Spivak replied that only factual ones, clearly, where the answer is a "simple fact." Spivak said, "Wolfram believes that by focusing on factual knowledge -- things like you might find in the Wikipedia or textbooks or reports -- the bias problem can be avoided. At least he is focusing the system on questions that do have only one answer -- not questions for which there might be many different opinions. Everyone generally agrees for example that the closing price of GOOG on a certain date is a particular dollar amount. It is not debatable. These are the kinds of questions the system addresses."

Spivak said, "It is not a system that will understand the nuances of what you consider to be the perfect romantic getaway, for example-there is still no substitute for manual human-guided search for that. Where it appears to excel is when you want facts about something, or when you need to compute a factual answer to some set of questions about factual data."