Get a Glimpse at the Next Google
On May 15, 2009, the Internet changed forever. Did you miss it?
The widespread acceptance of the Internet has lead to a monumental shift in the way we do almost everything. Communication now happens instantly across thousands of miles, e-commerce has generated billions of dollars for companies like Amazon.com and eBay, and, with the advent of search technologies like Google, the planet’s information is at our fingertips.
But in spite of these advances, something was missing…
After all, why should you have to scour pages and pages of Google results to find out which country is the world’s 5th smallest exporter? How is it that that sort of factual information isn’t readily available? In the past, search technologies had a big limitation – they required you to ask a question that’s already been asked and answered. But on May 15, with the public release of Wolfram Alpha, that all changed.
Wolfram Alpha is a computational knowledge engine. What that means is it answers factual questions based on structured databases that catalogue information. And it’s creating quite a stir among technology experts.
“[Wolfram Alpha] doesn’t simply return documents that (might) contain the answers, like Google does, and it isn’t just a giant database of knowledge, like the Wikipedia. It doesn’t simply parse natural language and then use that to retrieve documents… Instead, Wolfram Alpha actually computes the answers to a wide range of questions,” said Nova Spivak in an article posted on Twine, a social networking site.
So, if you really do want to know what the 5th smallest exporter nation is, or the average salary of a school bus driver, or what 20/200 vision looks like, with Wolfram Alpha the answer is truly only one click away… without having to rummage through search results.
Not a Search Engine
The most critical thing to remember about Wolfram Alpha is that it’s not a search engine – it’s an answer engine. While searching for “penny stocks” will yield you 5.7 million results on Google, Wolfram Alpha won’t return a single web page. Where Wolfram shines is in answering factual questions (asking subjective questions like “which car is cooler” won’t get you much success).
So, enter something like “What is the circulation of the Wall Street Journal?” or “What is the density of milk?” and you’ll get your answer (2.012 million readers and 242 g/cup respectively).
The most important thing about Wolfram Alpha isn’t what it’s capable of right now, it’s how the unique way it handles data makes big advances possible in the future. “Where Google is a system for finding things that we as a civilization collectively publish, Wolfram Alpha is for computing answers to questions about what we as a civilization collectively know.
It’s the next step in the distribution of knowledge and intelligence around the world — a new leap in the intelligence of our collective ‘Global Brain.’ And like any big next-step, Wolfram Alpha works in a new way — it computes answers instead of just looking them up,” explains Spivak.
Putting Wolfram Alpha to Work for You
And as an investor, Wolfram Alpha has some abilities that transcend the potential of its technologies. With this platform, you can instantly get a slew of financial information on a stock just by typing its ticker into Wolfram’s engine.
You can also make interesting computations on the fly, like this chart of GM revenues divided by Ford’s revenues:
If you’re interested in options, bonds, or currencies, Wolfram Alpha also has the ability to make complex calculations (like the value of a straddle option) instantly for you.
Keeping an Eye on the Future
There’s little question that the work the folks at Wolfram Research are doing on Wolfram Alpha is going to change the way we interact with data. I think it’s clear that those changes are going to trickle down to make data more available to investors – and they’re also going to fuel huge growth for the handful of companies who are working on computational engine technologies. Visit wolframalpha.com to check out this amazing new technology for yourself.
Unfortunately for us Wolfram Research is a privately held company, but there are other plays in the field. We’ll keep you posted as they make their moves.
June 4, 2009
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