Boldly Googling into the future

Summary:Google's chief technology officer Craig Silverstein claims the future of search technology will see science fiction become science fact, but in the meantime, the best option is to fake it

With former customers such as Microsoft and Yahoo looking to knock Google off the top of the lucrative search market, the company has opted to go on the offensive rather than retreat into lock-down and cost-cutting.

Keen to maintain its innovative reputation, Google is expanding its product range and is about to move into even larger offices in Silicon Valley formerly occupied by an increasingly troubled Silicon Graphics. It also recently expanded its number of world-wide offices to 21, with the opening of a Spanish sales branch in Madrid.

And when other tech companies are announcing job cuts, Google continues to swell staff numbers with computer science PhD's, currently totalling 60, through schemes such as its Code Jam competition. ZDNet UK spoke to Google chief technology officer Craig Silverstein about plans for future innovation and impending competition.

Google product manager Marissa Mayer recently said that search is still in its infancy -- how do you think it will look when it's 'grown up'?

When search grows up, it will look like Star Trek: you talk into the air ("Computer! What's the situation down on the planet?") and the computer processes your question, figures out its context, figures out what response you're looking for, searches a giant database in who-knows-how-many languages, translates/analyses/summarises all the results, and presents them back to you in a pleasant voice. I think this technology is about, oh, 300 years off. Just getting the computer to understand your question, much less the context it's being asked in, is way beyond the state of the art in computer science right now.

The best we can do in the meantime is "fake it" -- either by pretending to understand text even though we don't, or by leveraging human intelligence to do our computations. That's what PageRank does: it makes use of the links that people make between Web pages even though it doesn't understand why exactly someone decided to make a link between page A and page B.

Besides the intelligence part, there are other issues involved in growing up.  One is dealing with more diverse types of data formats, including non-textual ones. Another is dealing better with translation -- why should a result be bad for you just because it's written in a language you don't know?

Topics: Tech Industry


"If I'd written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people - including me - would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism." Hunter S. Thompson Andrew Donoghue is a freelance technology and business journ... Full Bio

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