May 3, 2009

Encyclopedic Knowledge

A new knowledge search and analytics engine, Wolfram Alpha, will formally launch in a few days. This revolutionary search tool is remarkably different than Google, Yahoo Search or Mocrosoft Live search. Instead of presenting sites in a prioritized list according to built-in algorithms, WA will respond on-the-fly with encyclopedic type answers to direct questions. A UK newspaper has the story.

Dr. Wolfram's demonstration of his powerful system, based on artificial intelligence concepts and curated data, at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society last week was a hit with Internet experts.

Coincidentally, The New York Times chronicled the rise and demise of Encarta, Microsoft's 1980s-90s CD and Internet based encyclopedia. The world of knowledge continues to morph and reshape itself into much more than one could ever have predicted even 20 years ago.

The interesting commonality between Encarta and all other first-rate encyclopedias, whether books or electronic, including Wolfram Alpha, is they are curated by experts. Wolfram predicts that 1,000 people will be needed to acquire and maintain the numerous databases that underlie WA, which will use information that is not always available to spiders used by search engines to crawl the Internet gathering updates to websites for their indexes. Even Wikipedia the 'crowd-based' online gem has hundreds of volunteers who scour the millions of entries doing their best to prevent flagrant falsehoods.

We'll be anxious to take Wolfram Alpha for a spin when it's launched. Should Google or Microsoft or Yahoo be worried about this impressive start-up? I don't think so, because if the technology is as good as the hype, one of the major players will buy WA. This will be a fascinating game to watch.
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