BBC NEWS | Technology | Web tool ‘as important as Google’. Here’s a new search tool that will – apparently – be “like interacting with an expert, it will understand what you’re talking about, do the computation, and then present you with the results”. Dr Wolfram says: “Wolfram Alpha is like plugging into a vast electronic brain…It computes answers – it doesn’t merely look them up in a big database.”
It is clearly a very sophisticated search engine – I imagine it has a bit of natural language processing with some “mashup” algorithms – and all such developments are very exciting. I am sure it will be very, very useful in relevant contexts and will have lots of very productive applications. It just seems to me to be ironic that the experts who devote themselves to promoting knowledge and understanding are so bad at picking words to describe in a sensible way what they have achieved. Is it marketing departments gone mad? Are they all misquoted by mischievous journalists? I hope if I spoke about this to Dr Wolfram he would understand what I’m talking about…
UPDATE: There’s a New Scientist preview of Wolfram Alpha, which explains a bit more about how it works. As far as I can work out, they have built a big database and are promoting its “authoritativeness” – so back to the “quality information has been mediated by experts” model.
ANOTHER UPDATE: First impressions from BBC technology: Wolfram Alpha first impressions.