Google 'a million miles away from creating the search engine of my dreams,' says Larry Page

Summary:The search engine chief commits to a new generation of big bets, including some ideas that look "pretty crazy" today but may pay off down the line.

The chief executive of search to self-driving-cars giant Google says there is still plenty to do before the company creates the perfect search engine.

In his annual 'Founder's Letter', published ahead of the company's annual shareholder meeting, Google chief executive Larry Page listed some of the "long-terms bets on new technology" the search company has made, and explained the motivation behind some of them.

"Information is Google's core," Page said, noting that more than 100 billion Google searches are conducted each month — 15 percent of which are never-before-asked new queries.

The search engine is working on being able to provide direct answers to questions rather than just a list of results, said Page, adding that Voice Search now works in 38 languages.

But despite these advances, Page admitted that "in many ways, we're a million miles away from creating the search engine of my dreams, one that gets you just the right information at the exact moment you need it with almost no effort".

Google Now is one part of the company's effort to tackle this, by providing information in a timely manner. Understanding context is another element, with Page noting that advances here are "crucial if we are to improve human-computer interaction".

Page said: "Improved context will also help make search more natural, and not a series of keywords you artificially type into a computer. We're getting closer: ask how tall the Eiffel Tower is, and then when 'it' was built. By understanding what 'it' means in different contexts, we can make search conversational."

Page also highlighted the growth of Android — one billion Android devices have now been activated — and said that, on average, Android developers earned four times more from user payments in 2013 than they did the year before. "We're now taking Android to wearables, like watches, and to cars, where we can make it super easy to get directions, make a call or play music," he added.

Page also stressed that simplicity remains an essential virtue for Google: "People still talk about the simplicity of the Google homepage, and that was a huge part of our original success. There's no reason the same principles can't apply across our products, especially now, with so many devices and options, and so much opportunity for distraction."

Google's CEO found room to be critical of the level of innovation in the industry: "It's also true that over time many companies get comfortable doing what they have always done, with a few incremental changes. This kind of incrementalism leads to irrelevance over time, especially in technology, because change tends to be revolutionary, not evolutionary."  

To avoid such a fate, Page said, Google is investing in "our next generation of big bets". These include healthcare company Calico and smart contact lens company Iris, plus thermostat maker Nest, and self-driving cars.

"These seem like pretty crazy ideas today, but if the past is any indicator of our future success, today's big bets won't seem so wild in a few years' time," he said.  

But it's also worth noting that, despite all these technology big bets, around 90 percent of Google's revenue still comes from advertising

Read more on Google

Topics: Mobility, E-Commerce, Emerging Tech, Google, Tech Industry

About

Steve Ranger is the UK editor-in-chief of ZDNet and TechRepublic, and has been writing about technology, business and culture for more than a decade. Previously he was the editor of silicon.com.

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