Stephen Wolfram’s next project, the Wolfram|Alpha search "engine" (or, rather, answer to everything that is computable) is due out in May visit it here.) To me it seems like a combination of Google, CYC and, perhaps, Mathematica. It certainly is interesting and should do much for factual search, not to mention conversational interfaces to search. Nova Spivack thinks it is as important as Google. Doug Lenat (in the comment field to Spivack’s blog post) says
[...] it’s not AI, and not aiming to be, so it shouldn’t be measured by contrasting it with HAL or Cyc but with Google or Yahoo. At its heart is a formal Mathematica representation. Its inference engine is basically a large number of individually hand-engineered scripts for tapping into data which he and his team have spent the last several years gathering and "curating". For example, he has assembled tables of historical financial information about countries’ GDP’s and about companies’ stock prices. In a small number of cases, he also connects via API to third party information, but mostly for realtime data such as a current stock price or current temperature. Rather than connecting to and relying on the current or future Semantic Web, Alpha computes its answers primarily from his own curated data to the extent possible; he sees Alpha as the home for almost all the information it needs, and will use to answer users’ queries.
Another way of seeing it might be as the latest shot at providing answers by processing rather than storage – which fits nicely with Wolfram’s idea of computational equivalence – that the universe can be described by a simple set of rules, which as far as I understand it means that all complexity is only apparent, not real, and only so because we have not yet understood the underlying algorithms.
I just can’t wait to try it out – and to see what the impact will be on more storage-intensive search engines and their use.
Update March 12: This is garnering some serious attention for a service that isn’t even in beta yet…