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Wolfram Alpha Launches in May
Wolfram Alpha differs from traditional search engines in that it does not simply return a list of results based on a keyword, but instead computes answers and relevant visualizations from a collection of known information. Other new search engines, known collectively as semantic search engines, have developed alpha applications of this type, which index a large amount of answers, and then try to match the question to one. Examples of companies using this strategy include True Knowledge, and Microsoft's Powerset.
Wolfram Alpha has many parallels with Cyc, a project aimed at developing a common-sense inference engine since the 80s, though without producing any major commercial application. Cyc founder Douglas Lenat was one of the few given an opportunity to test Wolfram Alpha before its release:
It handles a much wider range of queries than Cyc, but much narrower than Google; it understands some of what it is displaying as an answer, but only some of it ... The bottom line is that there are a large range of queries it can't parse, and a large range of parsable queries it can't answer
Wolfram's earlier flagship product Mathematica encompasses computer algebra, numerical computation, visualization and statistics capabilities and can be used on all kinds of mathematical analysis, from simple plotting to signal processing, but will not be included in the alpha release, due to computation-time problems.