By Maureen Clements
Ever heard of Wolfram Alpha? The name conjures visions of solar systems and Battlestar Galactica episodes, but Wolfram Alpha isn't a constellation or a galaxy. It's the name of a new computational research engine spearheaded by legendary physicist Stephen Wolfram. According to CNET, Wolfram Alpha is "a cross between a research library, a graphing calculator, and a search engine." In a nutshell, you can ask it a question, such as "What's the GDP of France?" and it gives you the answer. In more technical terms, it's a giant repository that employs complicated computer algorithms to perform computational calculations of vetted data sets requested by natural language queries. Got that?
Unfortunately, Wolfram Alpha isn't publicly available yet and, based on early demonstrations, there are still kinks to be worked out. However, the idea and concept are there. Using my crystal ball to gaze deep into the future, I see major implications for librarians and investigative news researchers. A tool like this could revolutionize investigative reporting for cash-strapped news organizations and start-up blogs. Reporters and researchers will no longer have to spend countless hours compiling data to determine whether correlations exist between events. Maybe Wolfram Alpha will turn into a star after all.