I’m one of the uber-geeks that rushed home on Friday and opened my browser at 7:00 PM to watch (yes, watch via video feed) the launch of WolframAlpha. The launch wasn’t without its hick-ups (ran about 25 minutes late getting the video feed to work, then about an hour or so before the first bits of the website was ready for searches to begin.) But, that was to be expected.
Even the errors of having too many users hitting the database at one time was okay with me, and it was made kind of funny by the 2001-esque HAL to Dave error message.
I’m not going to go into a big review of WolframAlpha (if you’re interested, here’s a good one from SearchEngineLand). I will say this, though — It is a great “data compilation” resource. That means that it is not Google, nor any of the traditional search engines that you’ve used since 1994. WolframAlpha compiles data in a way that presents a result. So, if I wanted to know the average temperature of Houston, TX in July, then this is my resource.
For Legal Research, however, WolframAlpha just isn’t ready for that.
Here’s some examples of “legal” questions that I asked WolframAlpha:
- Number of lawsuits filed against Exxon
- Patents held by IBM
- General Counsel of Wal-Mart
- Chairman of Skadden Arps
All of these came back with no answers. [NOTE: There are some additional examples of legal searches on Legal Informatics Blog as well.]
In fairness, WolframAlpha is in its infancy and isn’t claiming to be a legal research tool at all. No one should expect it to answer all of these questions right out of the box, but I’m hoping that it can develop and expand its data collection abilities to begin answering some of these types of questions. To me, the “patents” question seems like something that can be integrated into the WolframAlpha database without much difficulty.
I’m happy that Stephen Wolfram has found a way to take his mathematical concepts and genius and figure out a way to pull different types of data together an produce a rational result. It is my hope that he can expand the WolframAlpha idea to expand into additional topics outside the hard sciences. I’m looking forward to the day that HAL comes back and says “Yes Greg, I can answer your patent question.”