Computational knowledge engines: the search engine, evolved

A new search engine, known as Wolfram|Alpha has launched. It may be improper to refer to it as a search engine, as it refers to itself as a "computational knowledge engine".

The engine differs from a traditional search engine in that the goal of the engine is not only to make information accessible, but in the case of WolframAlpha, immediately computable.

To perhaps give a better explanation of what WolframAlpha is, let us walk through an average searching scenario. I stumble on the website, and in the search field I decide to type my city's name, Toronto.

If the website stumbled upon were Google, one would now have access to several pages referring to Toronto. If the engine stumbled upon was WolframAlpha, one would have immediate access to the populations (both overall and that of the metro core), local time, location in coordinates, satellite imagery, etc.

Now let's assume that one wanted to search for a specific date, such as a birthday. On Google, type the date and see a list of related pages and perhaps even some news articles, if the date is significant. On WolframAlpha, type the date and be presented with the date displayed in different formats, a time difference of the present moment to the entered date, a breakdown of which day and week the date landed upon within the year that was searched, any worldwide observances that fall on that day, notable events in history, sunrise and sunset information, and even information on the phase of the moon on that date.

The engine also does number crunching! WolframAlpha boasts the ability to compute ANY numerical problem.

Surely, this engine with all of its power still cannot compute the meaning of life, right? Wrong. It can, and lo and behold, the answer is still 42.

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