It’s going to be a website: www.wolframalpha.com. With one simple input field that gives access to a huge system, with trillions of pieces of curated data and millions of lines of algorithms.
We’re all working very hard right now to get Wolfram|Alpha ready to go live.
I think it’s going to be pretty exciting. A new paradigm for using computers and the web.
That almost gets us to what people thought computers would be able to do 50 years ago!
Stephen was kind enough to spend two hours with me last week to demo his new online service — Wolfram Alpha (scheduled to open in May)….
In a nutshell, Wolfram and his team have built what he calls a “computational knowledge engine” for the Web. OK, so what does that really mean? Basically it means that you can ask it factual questions and it computes answers for you….
Think about that for a minute. It computes the answers. Wolfram Alpha doesn’t simply contain huge amounts of manually entered pairs of questions and answers, nor does it search for answers in a database of facts. Instead, it understands and then computes answers to certain kinds of questions.
I haven’t seen this much excitement about a search-related product since the pre-launches of Cuil and Powerset, and we know how those played out. In fairness to Wolfram, however, he did bring us Mathematica, which is more than a legitimate claim to fame.
However, I’m not so persuaded by his more recent accomplishment of publishing A New Kind of Science, a best-seller and 1200-page coffee table book. Here’s what Wikipedia tells us about its critical reception:
NKS received extensive media publicity for a scientific book, generating scores of articles in such publications as The New York Times, Newsweek, Wired, and The Economist. It was a best-seller and won numerous awards. NKS was reviewed in a large range of scientific journals. Several themes emerged. On the positive, many reviewers enjoyed the quality of the book’s production, and the clear way Wolfram presented many ideas. Many reviewers, even those who engaged in other criticisms, found aspects of the book to be interesting and thought-provoking. On the negative, many reviewers criticized Wolfram for his lack of modesty, poor editing, lack of mathematical rigor, and the lack of immediate utility of his ideas. Concerning the ultimate importance of the book, a common attitude was that of either skepticism or “wait and see”.
If Wolfram has built a breakthrough tool to support information seeking, then he should let it prove itself by unveiling it and letting other people test it. We aren’t talking about some kind of esoteric science where only a few intellectuals can hope to understand it. Rather, his product purports to be some kind of search / answer / knowledge engine. It’s 2009, and we’re all used to the general vision. What we’re holding our breath for is execution.
I’m open to the possibility that Wolfram has built something that will change the world. But I’m extemely skeptical, and this hype campaign hardly instills confidence. Apparently he told Nova that the product will be launched in May. Two months: not so long to wait to see how well reality matches the hype.