Saturday, May 16, 2009

computational knowledge engine

There's a new search engine in town, a 'computational knowledge engine', Wolfram|Alpha.

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.

Wolfram|Alpha aims to bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people—spanning all professions and education levels. Our goal is to accept completely free-form input, and to serve as a knowledge engine that generates powerful results and presents them with maximum clarity.

Wolfram|Alpha is an ambitious, long-term intellectual endeavor that we intend will deliver increasing capabilities over the years and decades to come. With a world-class team and participation from top outside experts in countless fields, our goal is to create something that will stand as a major milestone of 21st century intellectual achievement.

I've tried it. It's kind of cool--if you're willing to simply trust that what you get is true. But I tend to do that with things like Wikipedia, anyway, unless I'm writing a real essay*, in which case I sigh and confirm via other sources. So I'm guessing for simple travel (how far from Leeds to London?) or money (how many dollars in a pound?) questions, I'll be happy to use it, and then follow their links to the source material and check it out myself if it's really important, if I need to lean on that answer to make a crucial decision about something.

But go play. It's fun.

Meanwhile, it's shaping up to be a truly beautiful weekend here in Seattle, so I don't expect to be online much.

* Oh, ho. What's a 'real' essay when it's at home? I find I mean something that will be in a printed book or high-circulation journal. Interesting. I have print prejudice...
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