Wolfram Research, makers of Mathematica, a leading computational software program, have developed a new search engine, Wolfram Alpha. Wolfram Alpha has been hailed by some as a “Google Killer,” and as a possible “Propaganda Machine” by others. Although, incidentally, if you type “iraq war” into Wolfram Alpha as the propaganda article mentions, you get the following :

And that seems to be the major difference between Wolfram Alpha and a typical search engine. Wolfram Alpha is more of a calculation machine rather than a search engine. Type in something that can’t really be calculated, say you’re looking for a ferrari, and you get the following:

Wolfram Alpha just doesn’t know what to do with that. Of course, that should cut down on the porn spam quite a bit…

There are some funny bits, though. For instance, ask for a calculation such as “What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow,” and you may actually get an answer:

Or, perhaps, “What is the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything?“

Overall, Wolfram Alpha seems to be a pretty decent source for statistical and mathematical information. For instance, type in “Google” and you get a plethora of information about Google, the company:

Choose to view the information on Google as a word, and you get this:

Though, I find it surprising that it doesn’t suggest the origin of the word itself, “googol.” However, if you search for “googol” it does have an accurate answer:

Ultimately, I don’t think it’s anything close to a “Google Killer,” but it definitely has potential, both in the academic community, and with students overall. Google won’t just roll over, though, and has announced the launch of a new Google Labs project, Google Squared. Google Squared is an attempt to organize the data on the web into a format the seems to be more usable for researchers. Time will tell, though, as Squared hasn’t been launched yet.

I encourage you to take the Wolfram Alpha engine for a spin, see what you can find. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the incredible amount of useful information it has. And, assuming it survives, it will only get better as time goes on.