Using semantics—the meaning of words rather than just the words themselves—as the basis of Web search has been a prime goal of researchers for some time, but except for limited approaches, the idea has had trouble making it out of the lab. Now mathematician/computer scientist Stephen Wolfram thinks he has a better idea to improve search—though just what that is remains more than a bit obscure.

Wolfram is famous as the inventor of Mathematica, the multi-faceted program that made the computer a useful tool for serious mathematics, and slightly notorious as the author of A New Kind of Science (NKS), a 1200-page tome that attempts to explain a vast array of natural phenomena in terms of cellular automata, simple mathematical rules that can lead to complex behavior.

As he explains in a blog post, Wolfram believes that computation, rather than semantic understanding, may be the key to better search, With the computational power of Mathematica and the "paradigm for understanding" of NKS, he writee, "I realized there’s another way: explicitly implement methods and models, as algorithms, and explicitly curate all data so that it is immediately computable."

What does that mean? I have to admit I have no idea. But Wolfram is far too original and important a thinker to discard it as mere argle-bargle. Right now, if you go to the new WolframAlpha Web site, all you will see is the image above and a notice that the site is launching in May. I guess we'll have to wait a couple of months to find other whether A New Kind of Search will really unlock the secrets of the Web.

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