An Internet search engine will be unveiled this week that understands questions and has the ability to solve problems.
One observer says it could result in a self-organizing Internet.
Wolfram Alpha will not only give a straight answer to questions such as "how high is Mount Everest?", but it will also produce a neat page of related information – all properly sourced – such as geographical location and nearby towns, and other mountains, complete with graphs and charts.There is no estimate yet on when Wolfram Alpha will become self-aware and decide that human beings are an annoyance up with which it can no longer put.
The real innovation, however, is in its ability to work things out "on the fly", according to its British inventor, Dr Stephen Wolfram. If you ask it to compare the height of Mount Everest to the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, it will tell you. Or ask what the weather was like in London on the day John F Kennedy was assassinated, it will cross-check and provide the answer. Ask it about D sharp major, it will play the scale. Type in "10 flips for four heads" and it will guess that you need to know the probability of coin-tossing. If you want to know when the next solar eclipse over Chicago is, or the exact current location of the International Space Station, it can work it out.
Dr Wolfram, an award-winning physicist who is based in America, added that the information is "curated", meaning it is assessed first by experts. This means that the weaknesses of sites such as Wikipedia, where doubts are cast on the information because anyone can contribute, are taken out. It is based on his best-selling Mathematica software, a standard tool for scientists, engineers and academics for crunching complex maths.
"I've wanted to make the knowledge we've accumulated in our civilisation computable," he said last week. "I was not sure it was possible. I'm a little surprised it worked out so well."