A web tool that answers questions directly rather than offering a list of search results could become as popular as Google, according to its inventor.

Wolfram Alpha is a free-to-use 'computational knowledge engine' developed by British scientist Stephen Wolfram. It will be made publicly available later this month.

It works by offering information from public and licensed databases as well as live information such as share prices and weather reports.

The tool also allows users to use 'natural language processing' when searching. This means they can input queries in the same way they might ask a question in a conversation, rather than input specific search terms recognised by current search engines.

Wolfram said the program can be used to find out simple facts as well as solving mathematical equations, plot scientific figures and collate different statistics to create new figures, such as the GDP of a country.

"Our goal is to make expert knowledge accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime," said Wolfram.

"Like interacting with an expert, it will understand what you're talking about, do the computation, and then present you with the results."