Is “Googling” passÃ©? A new search engine launching this monthâ€”developed in secret by a British mathematicianâ€”could radically change the way you surf the Web. The Daily Beast’s Nicholas Ciarelli test drives it.
Step away from your Google search for a moment and consider the following scenario: What if a search engine, instead of giving you a long list of Web pages, simply computed the answer to whatever question you threw at it?
What was the average temperature in Chicago last year? What is the life expectancy of a male, age 40, in New Zealand? If you flip a coin 10 times, what is the probability that four of the flips will come up heads?
Wolfram Alpha easily computed a variety of facts: What nutrients are in two Snickers bars? How many people are alive today with the name “Nicholas”? How do oil exports in Iraq compare to those of Kuwait?
“The feeling that I had was that feeling from back in 1996, when the world was using AltaVista and this new thing out of Stanford came out called Google, and everyone said, ‘you’ve got to check it out,'” says Matthew Prince, a business-school student who saw the demo. “I could immediately see ways in my daily life where I would potentially use this.”
In essence, Wolfram Alpha is a frighteningly powerful calculator that is chock full of facts about the world. Type in a question in plain English: “What was the weather in Rancho Mirage when Gerald Ford died?” Wolfram Alpha instantly spits back the temperature, weather conditions, relative humidity, and wind speed, followed by a set of neatly formatted tables and charts.