Wolfram Alpha gives Deep Thought to user questions

News Analysis

Wolfram Alpha gives Deep Thought to user questions

Cliff Saran

Wolfram Alpha, a search tool which is due to be launched this month, is set to revolutionise how businesses and users pull together reports based on information gathered across the internet and corporate networks.

Stephen Wolfram, founder and CEO of Wolfram Research, which produces the mathematical modelling tool, believes the world can be represented in a computational form as a mathematical model. He claims it is possible to build programming models to represent human knowledge. In Wolfram Alpha, these models can then be used to calculate answers to user questions.

Wolfram says the computation and algorithms take the fruits of science and engineering and encode them in a mathematical form using Mathematica so that they can be used by Wolfram Alpha. Users ask questions in plain English and get results that combine different sources of information to provide meaningful data. For example, if a user asks "What is the contribution to GDP per capita in France?", Wolfram Alpha would calculate the answer based on information it gleans from public and private databases.

Mike Davis, senior analyst at Ovum, says Wolfram Alpha could be used like an enterprise portal to pull in useful information to improve staff productivity. He expects it will appeal to people who require specialist knowledge, such as researchers. "Wolfram Alpha is charged on a subscription basis. It is not a Google killer, but a tool for people who need to tap into specialist knowledge," he says.

In the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Deep Thought, the most powerful computer every built, was asked the "ultimate question". After 7.5 million years of computations, it came back with the answer "42".

Perhaps Wolfram Alpha too will be able to work out the answer to the ultimate question.

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