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Wolfram|Alpha, a harbringer for benchmarks, computes answers to questions from databases

A fascinating article in the NY Times, May 11, 2009 at B7, describes an online service that computes the answers to questions by drawing on collections of data the company has amassed. Some 100 employees in Wolfram Research have gathered, verified and organized huge amounts of data. When a user types in a query, the software tries to determine the relevant area of knowledge and find the answers, “often by performing calculations on its data.” The site does not search the Internet for answers.

On its website it claims, modestly, to be the “first step in an ambitious, long-term project to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable by anyone. You enter your question or calculation, and uses its built-in algorithms and growing collection of data to compute the answer.”

One can imagine sometime in the next decade large amounts of benchmark data from law departments poured into a Wolfram Alpha database. Its computational prowess and gaudy visuals could make the current crop of survey reports look pitifully rigid and shallow.

All that’s needed is sufficient benchmark data ….

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