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Wolfram previews a kind of computational portal

c|net has an article on Wolfram Research’s new product, Wolfram Alpha, being launched later this month

Wolfram Alpha is like a cross between a research library, a graphing calculator, and a search engine. But does Wolfram Research’s “computational knowledge engine,” set to debut publicly later this month, live up to its hype as a Web site that Google needs to be afraid of?

We get a description of Alpha from Wolfram himself courtesy of an earlier c|net article by Dan Farber

“All one needs to be able to do is to take questions people ask in natural language, and represent them in a precise form that fits into the computations one can do,” Wolfram said in a recent blog post. “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…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,” he added.

Who is it for? According to CNET reporter Stephen Shankland:

Today at least, Wolfram Alpha is for the tech crowd–the kind of people who want to dig into the data. It’s a great exploration tool to find out whether somebody who’s 5 feet 5 inches and 160 pounds is overweight, the chemical properties of boron, and whether you’re going to get a full moon during the evening of September 4 in Buenos Aires when you want to propose to your fiancee.

It’ll tell you the family, genus, species, and caloric value of an apple, and it’ll forecast Apple’s stock price, but it won’t give you apple pie recipes. It’ll tell you the box office take of the first “Star Trek” movie, but it won’t tell you the theater where you can see the newest “Star Trek” movie.

It’s best to get a sense for it by walking through some real examples. c|net also just posted a visual tour through some of the queries and data-based exploration that Alpha enables. It’s an interesting series of pictures.

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