Sunday, March 08, 2009

Wolfram Alpha - computational knowledge engine

Wolfram Research (Stephen Wolfram) is on the verge of unveiling a new project called "Alpha" which is billed as a "computational knowledge engine." It combines the computational power of Mathematica with tools to "explicitly curate all data so that it is immediately computable" to be able to "take questions people ask in natural language, and represent them in a precise form that fits into the computations one can do" and "handle all the shorthand notations that people in every possible field use." Wolfram says:

... I'm happy to say that with a mixture of many clever algorithms and heuristics, lots of linguistic discovery and linguistic curation, and what probably amount to some serious theoretical breakthroughs, we're actually managing to make it work.

He does add the caveat that:

And -- like Mathematica, or NKS -- the project will never be finished.

But he triumphantly announces that:

... I'm happy to say that we've almost reached the point where we feel we can expose the first part of it.

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.

Having a simple Google-like search engine box is all well and good, but the real question is the extent to which the engine is "open", both in terms of programmatic API and Web Services access and integrating with external data.

How it compares with and meshes with the Semantic Web remains to be seen.

In any case, this does sound like a significant leap forward

-- Jack Krupansky

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