Growth5 Blog

Monday, May 11, 2009

Data Search Engine WolframAlpha Will Complement Google Nicely

Next Monday, 5/18/09, a new search engine called WolframAlpha will be launching, you should check it out. Why? It sounds like it will be an excellent complement to Google, Yahoo, Microsoft or whatever search engine you are using, as it has been built to answer research questions.

For those of you writing reports, presentations, proposals, etc... this could be a fantastic tool.

In a recent demo:

  • Wolfram did a search on the GDP of France and got a plot of the GDP history and some history. The next search had the GDP of France divided by the GDP of Italy and Wolfram/Alpha delivered an answer.
  • The weather in Lexington, Mass. as a search term delivered a summary of the temperature and plotted it as a function of time.
  • A search on “medical LDL 180″ dove into a public health study showing that level of cholesterol put someone in the 95.9 percentile in the U.S. Further refinements of the search—like “male age 40″—will yield a chart for life expectancy.
WolframAlpha calls itself a "Computational Knowledge Engine." The search engine was developed by physicist Stephen Wolfram. "Our goal is to make expert knowledge accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime, said Mr Wolfram. Like interacting with an expert, it will understand what you're talking about, do the computation, and then present you with the results."

From this CBS News article:
1. "The WolframAlpha engine is a Web service designed to process data from controlled, vetted sources of data - many not on the Web - then present the results in a way that lets people dig deeper into the subject. It's something of a cross between a graphing calculator, repositories of scientific data, and a system to interpret questions posed in human terms."

2. Alpha has four main components:

a)Data curation. Wolfram Alpha uses public and licensed proprietary data sources, and the company uses automated processes and human choices to prepare the data. "At some point you need a human domain expert in front of it," Wolfram said.

b)Algorithms. Alpha must pick the right computational processes to present its results. "Inside Wolfram Alpha are 5 million to 6 million lines of Mathematica code that implement all those methods and models," he said.

c)Linguistic analysis to understand what a person typed. "I thought one of many things could have gone wrong was that short, lazy things would (have) huge amounts of ambiguity," for example figuring out whether "50 cent" had to do with musical artists or money. "That turned out to be not nearly as much of a problem as we expected."

d)Presentation. "There are tens of thousands of possible graphs. What do you want to show people?" Wolfram asked.

Wolfram hopes the tool will help researchers perform scientific chores that before were possible but not necessarily worth their time.
Related:

-Google announced a data-centric service of its own recently.

-Technology Review conducted an interesting side-by-side search analysis between WolframAlpha & Google. You can check it out here.

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