Wolfram|Alpha, a different kind of web search engine designed by a British mathematician Stephen Wolfram, has recently launched. Based on Wolfram’s earlier Mathematica, ‘search engine’ is not really the correct description―it calls itself a ‘computational knowledge engine’.
Type in “Pluto” and Alpha calculates the dwarf planet’s distance from Earth at that very instant. Bang out a series of letters like “ACTCGTC” and Alpha recognizes it as genetic code and tells you what strand of DNA that particular gene lives on and what we know about it. Wolfram has licensed―or created―a whole library of databases and massaged them so the information is pliable. (To date, they include Wikipedia, the US Census, and “about nine-tenths of what you’d see on the main shelves of a reference library,” he says.)
More information about how it works at How Mathematica made WolframAlpha possible.
A good review of Wolfram|Alpha is at Search Engine Land: Wolfram Alpha Live Review: The Un-Google.
Check out A new kind of science, a wonderful web version of Wolfram’s earlier work.
UPDATE: Alpha is nothing like Google, although many have speculated on it being a ‘Google Killer’. In fact, as Trusted Reviews points out:
…there remains no doubt Wolfram Alpha represents a quantum leap forward in compiling data and the next time I need cold hard facts I suspect it is Wikipedia, not Google, which might feel the pinch…
They also update with:
WolframAlpha is loaded with so called ‘Easter Eggs’ – fun answers to light hearted questions. For example: Why did the chicken cross the road?
Or: What is the meaning of life?