A NEW site that aims to catalogue “as much of the world’s knowledge as possible” and use it to answer every question imaginable has the tech industry buzzing.
Developed by British physicist Stephen Wolfram, the Wolfram Alpha “knowledge engine” was this week opened to the public — and much fanfare.
The idea is that if Google sorts through all the pages on the web and tells you which one to read, Wolfram Alpha reads them itself and then tells you the answer.
In Wolfram’s words:
“We’re trying to take… all the data and methods and models and algorithms that have been accumulated in our civilisation and make them immediately computable so that anyone anywhere can just go to the web and use all that knowledge to compute answers to their specific questions.”
However Wolfram Alpha’s usefulness depends entirely on what you ask it.
Things it can tell you include the time the sun rose on the day you were born, the amount of energy required to melt 50g of gold and how long it would take a journalist to write 3000 words in shorthand.
But ask it a more human question and things get tricky. Take this example from radio producer Ryan Egan posted on Twitter today:
@rynobi: i asked Wolfram Alpha what the best Pavement record was and it had no idea what i was talking about! #smartcomputerindierockfail
For the record, the answer is Wowee Zowee.
“It is beginning to get at the sort of role that science fiction writers have always envisioned for computers, i.e. HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. But Wolfram Alpha’s ‘intelligence’ is still severely limited.” — Mike Harvey at The Times
“I’ve been putting Wolfram Alpha through the paces for the past few days and I come away impressed, but not super-impressed. It is obviously at a very early stage of development (hence the ‘alpha’ in the name) and it does show a lot of promise.” — Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch