This is definitely a technology that librarians need to keep an eye out. Launching in May 2009 as the first search engine that can “figure out” the answer to most factual questions. This also means that it will be able to provide the answer in the end, instead f providing links to documents that might have the answer.
“Wolfram Alpha Computes Answers To Factual Questions. This Is Going To Be Big.” is an article written by Nova Spivak that talks about his first hand experience of a demo of the search engine. I think its better to just read this article than for me to try to explain it, but the key point I took away is that this is:
Wolfram has created a set of building blocks for working with formal knowledge to generate useful computations, and in turn, by putting these computations together you can answer even more sophisticated questions and so on.
which means that this search engine, may not be the all knowing computer from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but it is a starting point that could lead to that kind of technology. Of course it can also lead to a HAL 9000, and we all know (or at least can look up) that things ended badly there. Here’s hoping for a new future in the way we search.