What do you think of WolframAlpha? It's not live yet - it launches tonight at 6pm Ranch time.
My impression from watching the intro:
What is interesting to me is that it gives you the answer, but not the source. For calculations, there isn't really a source anyway. I don't cite that 2+2=4. However, I do cite the population of Germany. So how are we supposed to know it is right? On the other hand, I think showing similar information you might not have asked for is cool.
Stephen Wolfram is the academic equivalent of John Romero, P. T. Barnum and Madonna, all rolled into one. He's a brilliant man but at least equally as brilliant at self-promotion, and he's done a good job of building buzz for this. While it does strike me as pretty cool, I think it's also obvious that it's template driven: there's some (possibly large) number of flexible scenarios that it knows how to provide responses in, but each scenario has been hand-crafted. Alpha is Mathematica 2009, wired up to use some large numbers of web databases as reference tables.
In any case, it's way more awesome than Ask Jeeves ever was, in any of its lame incarnations.
Maneesh Godbole wrote:How's this any different than a search engine?
Very. It's not a search engine at all. It's a "computational knowledge engine." In particular, it doesn't search websites and doesn't try to. If you enter "javaranch", you'll find nothing whereas the most basics of search engines would find this site. however if you enter a more "researchy" type topic like "swine flu" or "population of california" it gives you information beyond what you asked for.
The screencast looks impressive, but when you try entering some questions yourself, it seems like for 99% of what you enter it will respond with:
Wolfram|Alpha isn't sure what to do with your input.
Even something seemingly simple like "calendar 2009" is too hard for Wolfram Alpha...
They've made a lot of hype the last few months about Wolfram Alpha being a "Google killer" etc., but I don't see that happening. What I think will happen now is that many people will try it, they will be disappointed, and next month most people will have forgotten about it.
They've made a lot of hype the last few months about Wolfram Alpha being a "Google killer" etc.
In all fairness to the people involved in Alpha, I haven't seen them make such claims. A lot of people who wrote about it apparently equated "computational knowledge engine" with "what Google does", but that's just an indication of the technical competence of said writers.