Stephen Wolfram, the brains behind Mathematica and A New Kind Of Science (NKS), believes that his latest project, WolframAlpha, has a good chance to gain traction in the crowded and highly competitive search market because it approaches results differently. Rather than spitting out a list of results based around a query, the computation knowledge engine will provide answers to specific questions by drawing on the accumulated knowledge of the Web.
"Fifty years ago, when computers were young, people assumed that they'd quickly be able to handle all these kinds of things," wrote Wolfram on his blog. "And that one would be able to ask a computer any factual question, and have it compute the answer.
"But it didn't work out that way. Computers have been able to do many remarkable and unexpected things. But not that."
Using that principle as his mission statement, Wolfram used the work he has done with Mathematica and NKS to create an algorithm that may not be able to provide the time a movie starts but can accurately describe the constantly changing distance between the earth and the moon at any given moment.
And that's the differentiating factor that WolframAlpha hopes to bring to the search engine market. Rather than providing thousands of answers to questions that have already been asked, the computational knowledge engine looks to provide a smaller number of results that answer specific questions with useful and relevant information.
In addition to providing the types of search results that the project is going for, the team faces another challenge.
Last summer a hotly hyped search engine was unveiled and was billed as a legitimate challenger to Google. Cuil, as that search engine is known, launched with quite a bit of pomp and circumstance before Web traffic flooded its servers, causing it to crash.
Cuil still exists, but it never recovered from the disappointment users felt after being locked out on day one. For WolframAlpha, mainstream adoption and widespread use may be dependent on accurate search results as well as constant uptime.
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