UPDATED 14:10 EDT / MAY 18 2009

Wolfram-Alpha Isn’t the Future of Search, It’s Much More

image I’ve been one of the lucky few to have been getting updates and insider information about Wolfram-Alpha since it was mostly a concept.  Right around the time Nova Spivak was penning his first contribution for SiliconANGLE, I was hearing about the promise and potential of Wolfram from insiders. Despite all the proclamations in the press this week of “Google-killer,” not once was this mentioned to me when they described what they were working on.

Yet somehow Wolfram-Alpha keeps getting compared to Google, or against the benchmark of dozens of other search and discovery efforts that in classifications of web apps that have nothing to do with what Wolfram attempts.

For instance, Henry “Google-at-$2,000” Blodget today proclaimed Wolfram-Alpha an abject failure of Cuil proportions:

Another next-generation search engine launches.  It looks more differentiated than the much-ado-about-nothing known as Cuil, but that’s not saying much.

Our prediction: Wolfram Alpha (terrible name) will see a nice spike in traffic for a few days, then it will disappear unnoticed along with all the other "next-generation" search engines.


Because search isn’t broken.  It can be improved, yes, and companies like Wolfram Alpha will show Google how to improve it.  But no search engine we’ve seen, including this one, comes close to making the quantum leap in performance required to get real volumes of Internet users to switch.

Wolfram-Alpha Isn’t Attacking Google, WA is Unique
Joe Hall over at Marketing Pilgrim was attempting to cut down Wolfram by comparing it to his 5-year-old-niece, but in fact was making a very apt comparison.

What’s being built with Wolfram-Alpha is less of a search engine and more of an Internet brain.

When it was first described to me, the first thing I though of wasn’t an alternative way to find information I need in my daily research (although that’s definitely something I’m finding Wolfram useful for already).

Instead, my mind leapt to the one thing that chatterbox bots and all the functional bots we use on a daily basis lack – awareness of the world. When you think of tools like the (now defunct) I Want Sandy, powerful chatterbots like Alice or Microsoft’s old SmarterChild, their conversational and utilitarian functions were well defined, but what always lacked was their command of what’s actually going on in the world.

It’s always baffling to me how close so many bots come to defeating the yearly Turing tests and Loebner prizes, yet none of them have the ability to accurately do as something as basic as small-talk about the weather.

Yet hooking an intelligent agent into the Wolfram-Alpha computational engine to have an awareness about the weather worldwide is trivially easy.

What we’re seeing with WA is the birth of a new sort of computer – the birth of the mechanical brain.  Computers have always been capable of computation, but it generally requires one of two things: either formatting your input to match the capabilities of a specially designed application (i.e. a calculator), or it required the ability to program your desired computational algorithms for specific applications.

What Wolfram-Alpha makes conceivable is taking a step towards a Star Trek voice activated reality.

That, to me, is far more exciting than toppling the mighty Google.

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