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WolframAlpha: The next big Web breakthrough?

When Google was released, it revolutionized the quality of search engines, transforming the world society: it enabled anyone with Internet access to find almost any information. Knowledge available to everyone.

The next big technology to have a global effect might be WolframAlpha, to be released in a few weeks. Its main goal is in line with the main vision of the Internet: to make expert-level knowledge accessible to anyone. It is complementary to search engines, which find data. WolframAlpha computes structured data.

I just listened to a preview webinar by Stephen Wolfram, the leader of the project where already several hundred people are working. In exploits the computational capabilities of Mathematica, huge databases and live feeds of structured data, an impressive free form linguistic analysis, and an automated presentation of relevant results.

It does much more than mathematics (from sums to integrals) It can calculate interesting comparisons, e.g. GDP of countries, weather of cities, popularity of names, stock and exchange rates, unit conversions, etc. It has data from physics, chemistry, life sciences, (human genome project included), engineering, astronomy (e.g. location of the ISS), computational sciences (NKS and other stuff), geographical and socioeconomical data, health and nutrition (e.g. nutritional information of food), linguistics (dictionary, find words with certain patterns), history, entertainment, sports, music, colors, etc. And that is just the beginning...

I asked Wolfram what are the big challenges ahead for WolframAlpha. It seems one of the biggest is people understanding what it really is about, what kind of things it can be useful for. I mean, it is quite impressive and it can do really a lot, but it is not an all-mighty oracle. Other challenges are the ability to use more than one line of input (as it is now), e.g. uploading spreadsheets, images, etc., and then let WolframAlpha to compute that data.

In principle, there is lots of expectation to the potential uses of this technology. We will see how the public welcomes it.