This search engine is straight out of Star Trek!

The internet is littered with search engines, from past greats like AOL and AskJeeves to current market leaders like Yahoo and Google.  In order to stand out in such a saturated market, you really need a pretty unique product.  That's exactly what computer researcher Stephen Wolfram plans to deliver with his new search engine that literally answers some of your tough questions.

Wolfram Alpha is what Mr. Wolfram describes as a "computational knowledge engine."  It breaks down questions in English and parses them into searches.   For example, you can ask it "why is the sky blue?" or "how many bones are in the human body?" and it will be able to give you a factual answer.

Such computers have long been a staple of science fiction.  On shows such as Star Trek, users can query computers with the toughest questions in science hand have them respond within the scope of society's current knowledge.  While the internet has long brought us a step closer to that via traditional searches, it has lacked an algorithmic factual search.

The system obviously cannot answer non-factual questions.  So if you wanted to ask it “how good a job is President Obama doing?”, or “what is the greater religious truth?”, you may be disappointed

The downside is that Wolfram Alpha is perhaps not all it could be.  Rather than directly trying to parse online resources -- a mighty challenge -- the software instead relies on libraries of knowledge based on Wolfram's math and science products (namely, Mathematica and A New Kind of Science).  Wolfram created algorithms to parse through these libraries and convert them to queryable knowledge.

This means that while users can still add new content, similar to a wiki page, doing so may require a good deal of programming experience and may not be as accessible to an average user.

The engine will launch in May 2009.  Many are already speculating that Google will snatch up some of its ideas and incorporate it into its seemingly all-encompassing array of internet suites.  For now, though, Wolfram Alpha will provide an interesting a unique internet source resource, even if it ultimately falls short of tapping the multitude of knowledge on the internet.

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