MedGadget has posted an article about WolframAlpha the next big “outside-the-box” stab at a search engine. I have to agree, however, that Mr. Wolfram (btw, when was the last time you heard a new eponym??), might be on to something here. From MedGadget:
“Stephen Wolfram, the British physicist and mathematician behind Mathematica software launched his latest project on […] May 18th, Wolfram Alpha. The site, now in public alpha after much hype and fanfare, calls itself a “computational knowledge engine,” and wants to “make all systematic knowledge immediately computable by anyone.” What exactly does that mean? Essentially it’s like an extremely beefed up version of Mathematica that’s linked to a large database of any and all structured information it can collect on the web.”
Having tooled around with it a bit myself, I’ve found it, so far, very difficult to return results for almost any query. In fact, I believe there is a group of people that try and figure out what it *will* respond to and then post their results on-line. It is clear that the engine is in its infancy, but the concept behind it is quite powerful.
From WolframAlpha’s mission statement:
“Wolfram|Alpha’s long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything. Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.
Wolfram|Alpha aims to bring expert-level knowledge and capabilities to the broadest possible range of people—spanning all professions and education levels. Our goal is to accept completely free-form input, and to serve as a knowledge engine that generates powerful results and presents them with maximum clarity.
Wolfram|Alpha is an ambitious, long-term intellectual endeavor that we intend will deliver increasing capabilities over the years and decades to come. With a world-class team and participation from top outside experts in countless fields, our goal is to create something that will stand as a major milestone of 21st century intellectual achievement.”
MedGadget goes on to talk about the applicability to the medical field in particular:
“Wolfram Alpha is an ambitious project, and naturally, as part of its expansive scope, it’ll include a slew of medical data and formulas. Already it’s got quite a bit. Dr. Schwartz, over at A Disease a Day recently profiled 5 searches on Wolfram Alpha that’ll make you healthy. These include quickly calculating your BMI, seeing how many calories you’ve burned doing exercise, knowing your risk for heart disease, interpreting your medical test results, and estimating your birth due date. It’s even good for better understanding of your own blood pressure. Just try entering the query “blood pressure 145/90.”
Wolfram Alpha may also be useful to the practicing clinician. A search for “creatinine=0.9mg/dL, adult male” returns the 95% reference ranges for the test, a histogram of the general male USA population distribution for the test, and even the CPT codes and test panels.”
Ambitious indeed. This is just another example of an emerging trend/idea on the web that may become more and more important to our field, depending on how the technology is refined and implemented. Just a friendly heads-up… 😉