I just read Nova Spivack’s post about Wolfram Alpha on Twine. It looks like Stephen Wolfram has been operating a stealth-mode company that has built a natural language question answer and computation engine. It launches in May 2009. Its a system that can answer factual questions, using computation to generate some of the answers based on information it knows or can pull in. Interesting concept, although not new as some of comments have pointed out. True Knowledge is a company that has a working version of this already. And there’s the START Natural Languange Question Answering System which has been “on-line and continuously operating since 1993″.
What’s interesting about Nova Spivack’s spin on the project is that he compares it directly to Google and how Google is a lookup engine whereas Wolfram is a computation engine. I don’t think Google is behind the curve on this issue though – seems like they’re either waiting for somebody to solve this problem well and then they’re going to get gobbled (or googled) up and bought. Or perhaps they have a system of their own that does this sort of stuff and they’ve just been waiting for the appropriate time to launch it – when their stock needs a big boost or something ) At this point Google is a company with almost infinite resources both computationally and financially. There are very few companies that can be compared to them in a functional way. What Google is doing is not competing in a very obvious way. They’re competing in a very smart way – undoubtedly there are things being worked on at Google right now that are foundations for some very exciting applications – some of them could be monetizable, some of them may not be. But what they’ve been revealing are tools that are molding the web into a better business platform for them and for everybody else. Its hard to be mad at an 800 pound gorilla standing next to you in a crowded room passing out free drinks. What I’d like to see is how Wolfram Alpha is going to monetize their business – are they going to run Google Ads or are they waiting for Google to buy them?