No more a tall order

Sruthi Krishnan

Wolfram Alpha will throw up answers for tough questions in an easy format

CHENNAI: What if you could ask any question and the Internet could give you an answer? All you need to do this is an ultimate knowledge engine.

The tasks it needs to do are straightforward — take raw data, convert it into a structured format and then use it to obtain knowledge. A tall order? Yes, but brave souls powered by grey cells are trying to tackle this head-on.

When you search for ‘India GDP,’ you could get around six million pages. The first page of results gives you around 10 results, from which you find the information you need.

What if the information was presented in a different fashion? Instead of a page with 10 links, you see a graph of India’s GDP over 10 years, comparison of India’s growth with that of other countries, and India’s GDP in five different currencies.

Wolfram Alpha, a computational knowledge engine, which is set to have a full-scale launch on May 18, says it will provide you with such answers. It is a product of Wolfram Research, founded by Steven Wolfram, a scientist and author.

“The key is presentation of results,” says Mahesh Murthy, founder of Pinstorm, a digital marketing firm, which is also into search engine advertising. Wolfram Alpha takes unstructured data and crunches it into an easy-to-understand format.

Wolfram Alpha’s backbone is Mathematica, a computational tool, which can perform complex scientific computation. Using this, Wolfram Alpha can not only compute a country’s GDP in various currencies but also calculate the weight of 100,000 molecules of salt and draw weather forecast graphs.

According to the pre-launch material, Wolfram Alpha has curated information from various sources and converted it into formats its computational engine can work on. The query is broken down into chunks, and Wolfram Alpha then decides what information you require. Taking inputs from different sources on the fly, the engine can compute results, which are provided in an accessible format.

But Wolfram Alpha is not a replacement for search engines, Mr. Murthy says.

Google’s search options

In the attempt to provide more relevant search results, Google has come up with a ‘Search Options’ feature, says Vinay Goel, Head of Products, Google India.

If you search for the number of Internet users in India, you will not want a study done in 2007. The ‘Search Options’ feature helps you filter results you want. “You can then see results within a year, or 24 hours, or the last hour,” he says.

Google Squared is another experimental product in Google labs, which aggregates a lot of data and provides the results in the form of a spreadsheet. If you want to search for digital cameras, you could get attributes such as pricing, availability and user reviews, packed into a single spreadsheet. The Wonder Wheel in Google labs is another product that provides a pictorial representation of related searches, he says.

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