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Wolfram Alpha: First hands-onCNET's Rafe Needleman gets a look at the eagerly anticipated new computational search engine, Wolfram Alpha. Is it a Google killer? No, but it has the potential to change the way we view at data on the Web.
[ Music ] ^M00:00:05 >>Rafe Needleman: Hi this is Rafe Needleman from CNET's webware.com taking a first hands on look at Wolfram Alpha a new knowledge engine that takes online data and answers questions about it for you. Now it's no Google but it's one of the most interesting online services I've seen in awhile. We got early access to the system which is still in private testing so we could do this hands on demo. Here's what Alpha lets you do. Ask questions about data. It then the appropriate numbers from its collection of hand curated data sets and displays it for you in a very, very clear way. For example let's look at a very, very simple query: Temperature in San Francisco in 2007. You put that in and you get a very clear chart showing you the temperature of that year. Or here's one I found very useful. Mortgage 4.75%; you put in the data; you can if you want to put in points. It'll ask you to add that in there and then it shows you the monthly payment, the totally interest paid, graphs of the payment versus interests etc. Now you can get all this data on Google for sure but Wolfram presents in all in a very, very clear way and it does things that Google cannot. You can compare information to answer questions that Google couldn't help you with because nobody has asked or answered that question before. Here's a simple example. What is the GDP of France vs. the GDP of Italy? You put that into Alpha it gets all the data together and gives you not just the raw numbers but a chart built for you at that moment to show you those 2 data sets overlaid on top of each other. Wolfram Alpha has mathematical and scientific data as well. For example here's a chart of an air foils performance deflected by 25 degrees, calculated at Wolfram servers and then sent to us on the fly as needed. This is the fluid dynamics of this particular air foil shape and other associated charts that I don't really understand. Alpha will even solve calculus equations for you and show you the steps it took to solve them. It's built in part on Wolframs previous software application Mathematica. Other data sets include financial data like stock prices, sports data, medical information, physics, chemistry, math and even dictionary data. You can use it to solve wheel of fortune problems to fill in the blanks. This is a great way to explore data but in this early version that we looked at we found some snags. We found it to be very picky about syntax and there are limits to the complexity of queries. For example, I could find temperatures in San Francisco and I could find an earthquake history for San Francisco but I couldn't figure out how to correlate those 2 data sets. In fact while Wolfram himself did 20 or so demos this morning, each showing attractive and useful search results, I'd say about 3/4 of the queries I tried gave me no results or just plain weird results. But Alpha shows just how searching for data and showing what's out there is not the be all and end all for web research. Actually understanding and parsing the data and displaying it in new ways to answer questions that have never before been asked or answered. That's what Alphas beginning to do. It's not replacement for Google, but it has the potential to be the smartest search utility on the web. If only the people using it are smart enough to know how. I'm Rafe Needleman for CNET. [ Music ]