Wolfram Alpha What Google's New Rival Knows -- and Doesn't

Clever presentation, but a weak database: The soon-to-be-launched Wolfram Alpha search engine is already being touted as the "Google killer." SPIEGEL ONLINE has tested a preliminary version. The conclusion: It knows a lot about aspirin, a little about culture -- and it thinks German Chancellor Angela Merkel's political party is an airport.

Von and

Wolfram Alpha is not a "Google killer." Nor is it, in fact, a search engine. Instead, it is a "computational knowledge engine," says Stephen Wolfram, inventor of the new online service. He proudly describes his creation as "a new paradigm for the use of computers and the Web." His goal is to finally make good on the promise that computer pioneers made in the 1950s: to make computers that can come up with their own answers to questions.

Wolfram Alpha: More an "answer engine" than a search engine.

Wolfram Alpha: More an "answer engine" than a search engine.

Wolfram, a physicist, certainly seems to have the background needed for such a task. He invented the "Mathematica" software package, a universal problem solver for mathematical questions of all kinds, especially those that statisticians, scientists and mathematicians pose. And since the program requires so much processing power, some computer magazines even use it to test the capacity and performance of PCs.

Now Wolfram wants to revolutionize the way we search for answers online. The Wolfram Alpha "answer machine" is meant to show us how to get there by doing much the same thing as Google -- only better. Well, at least in theory.

Election results, company sales figures, TV viewer levels, and Olympic medal tables -- SPIEGEL ONLINE tests how well Wolfram Alpha knows its stuff.


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