Developments in search engines: Wolfram|Alpha

Wolfram|Alpha was launched in May 2009 as a computational or “answer engine”, which may point to the future of searching.  It was developed by Wolfram Research as a completely different approach to presentation of search results — the results of a search are intended to be a set of answers rather than a set of documents that might contain answers.  In this, it begins to move beyond the pattern-matching approaches used by search engines towards the intelligent, “inference” engine, which has been the goal of artificial intelligence.  Thus, a search on Wolfram|Alpha for “what is the current population of Uganda?” provides an answer of 31.7 million people, based on  2008 population estimate, graphs showing short and long-term population trends, demographic information and comparisons with world population.  The developers warn that it takes some experimentation to become familiar with the approach to searching and that the development of the search engine and its algorithms is very much a “work in progress”.  Maybe this is the future of searching!  Try it.

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