The "Computational Knowledge Engine" Wolfram Alpha Is Live

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The much anticipated Wolfram Alpha is now up and running. As ABC News explains Wolfram Alpha is 

… the name of an audacious, if quirky, Web site led by the scientist Stephen Wolfram — not a search engine, and not meant to be the "Google killer" that it was sometimes described as being, but a "computational knowledge engine." It is a Web site that will answer your questions — at least some of them — even if nobody has ever asked them before.

"What we're trying to do is much more ambitious," said [scientist Stephen] Wolfram, 49, the lead developer of the technology behind the project, on which he says he has worked 25 years. "We're trying to take the question you ask, and automatically produce for you the answer, not giving you a collection of links, and saying, 'Go read this Web site, go read that Web site.'"

So I clicked over to check it out. For another project I'm working on I inputted "what is the total fertility rate of Hong Kong." I got back all kinds of nifty demographic information, e.g., population, population growth rate, life expectancy and so forth, but no TFR. 

For comparison, I did a traditional Google search using "total fertility rate Hong Kong." I got the ususl list of links, the first of which gave me exactly the information I was seeking. The answer for 2008 is 1 child per woman. 

On the other hand, when I asked Wolfram Alpha how far it is to Alpha Centuari or how much a monthly payment on a $250,000 30-year mortgage at 5.3 percent would be, the answers popped right up. They were 25.81 trillion miles and $1388, respectively.

It's an interesting project, so I will definitely be trying Woflram Alpha from time to time with very specific factual questions and calculations. 

Update: I am very happy to report that when I asked Wolfram Alpha what is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything, it gave the right answer. Hooray.