A web tool that "could be as important as Google," according to some experts, has been shown off to the public, reports the BBC. Wolfram Alpha is the brainchild of British-born physicist Stephen Wolfram. The free program aims to answer questions directly, rather than display web pages in response to a query like a search engine. The "computational knowledge engine," as the technology is known, will be available to the public later this month. "Our goal is to make expert knowledge accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime," said Wolfram at the demonstration at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
The tool computes many of the answers "on the fly" by grabbing raw data from public and licensed databases, along with live feeds such as share prices and weather information. People can use the system to look up simple facts—such as the height of Mount Everest—or crunch several data sets together to produce new results, such as a country’s GDP. Other functions solve complex mathematical equations, plot scientific figures, or chart natural events. "Like interacting with an expert, it will understand what you’re talking about, do the computation, and then present you with the results," said Wolfram. As a result, much of the information is scientific, although there is also limited cultural information about pop stars and films…

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