WolframAlpha Is Not A Search Engine

WolframAlpha has been compared with Google in the media, but their goal - as stated on their website - is different. According to the WolframAlpha site:

Wolfram|Alpha's long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything. Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.

As you can see in the screen shot below, the current implementation of the WolframAlpha engine relies heavily on Mathematica, an earlier Wolfram endeavor.


(Sample query results from WolframAlpha)

WolframAlpha describes itself as an attempt to "collect and curate all objective data", which is a very different goal from that held by Google, which is to direct you to the best possible web page based on your query.

As such, I think that WolframAlpha is closer to the idea that Robert Heinlein was trying to get across when he wrote about a universal dictionary in his 1954 novel The Star Beast:

The universal dictionary in the British Museum was not more knowledgeable than the one in the Under Secretary's office; its working parts occupied an entire building in another part of the Capital, and its staff of cyberneticists, semanticians and encyclopedists endlessly fed its hunger for facts.
(Read more about Heinlein's universal dictionary)

Another science-fictional predecessor to WolframAlpha is Multivac, which appeared in a variety of Isaac Asimov's stories. One of the earliest was Franchise, from 1955.

"...they invented special machines which could look at the first few votes and compare them with the votes from the same places in previous years. That way the machine could compute how the total vote would be and who would be elected...

"... at last, they built Multivac and it can tell from just one voter."
(Read more about Multivac)

The WolframAlpha team may have some other sf sources in mind, however: here's what I got earlier in the week, in response to a query:


(Sample query results from WolframAlpha)

Find out about the site by trying it yourself at WolframAlpha; thanks to Fortigurn for suggesting this story and providing a reference.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 5/20/2009)

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