Wolfram Alpha is indeed a search engine, but it's not pretending to be Google, and unlike so many of the search engines that I've had pitched to me over the years, it isn't trying to do "search". It's actually doing something more subtle: it's doing semantic search. That thing that Sir Tim Berners-Lee has been banging on about.
Whereas Google simply uses tweaked versions of its original "lots of people link to this page" algorithm.
So don't write it off just yet. In fact don't write it off at all. The only thing that might hold it back is the cost of running it - but as Wolfram has had huge success with its software package Mathematica (which it used to build Alpha), it may be able to sustain the cost for a while.
The potential benefits mean that Wolfram Alpha could become both more reliable than Wikipedia for straight factual questions (though it will never be as in-depth as Wikipedia), and that its usefulness will grow very rapidly as more and more pages on the web get the sort of XML markup that means they can distinguish between Ford, the car, and ford, the method of getting across a river.
It's as though the enormous overpromise made all those years ago by Ask Jeeves - that it would understand natural-language queries - is finally starting to come true.
The biggest internet revolution for a generation will be unveiled this month with the launch of software that will understand questions and give specific, tailored answers in a way that the web has never managed before.
The new system, Wolfram Alpha, showcased at Harvard University in the US last week, takes the first step towards what many consider to be the internet's Holy Grail – a global store of information that understands and responds to ordinary language in the same way a person does.
Although the system is still new, it has already produced massive interest and excitement among technology pundits and internet watchers.
Computer experts believe the new search engine will be an evolutionary leap in the development of the internet.
Nova Spivack, an internet and computer expert, said that Wolfram Alpha could prove just as important as Google. "It is really impressive and significant," he wrote. "In fact it may be as important for the web (and the world) as Google, but for a different purpose.
Tom Simpson, of the blog Convergenceofeverything.com, said: "What are the wider implications exactly? A new paradigm for using computers and the web? Probably. Emerging artificial intelligence and a step towards a self-organising internet? Possibly... I think this could be big."
Wolfram Alpha will not only give a straight answer to questions such as "how high is Mount Everest?", but it will also produce a neat page of related information – all properly sourced – such as geographical location and nearby towns, and other mountains, complete with graphs and charts.
The real innovation, however, is in its ability to work things out "on the fly", according to its British inventor, Dr Stephen Wolfram. If you ask it to compare the height of Mount Everest to the length of the Golden Gate Bridge, it will tell you. Or ask what the weather was like in London on the day John F Kennedy was assassinated, it will cross-check and provide the answer.
Ask it about D sharp major, it will play the scale. Type in "10 flips for four heads" and it will guess that you need to know the probability of coin-tossing. If you want to know when the next solar eclipse over Chicago is, or the exact current location of the International Space Station, it can work it out.
Well, I've signed up for their email newsletter. We'll see what develops.