"If search engines were truly intelligent, you could just pose a question the same way you would ask a person.
"An alternative is to get the search engine to 'fill in the blank', so instead of asking 'who invented the parachute', you can enter the query 'the parachute was invented by *'", Google research scientist Hiyan Alshawi wrote in his blog.
The wildcard search is, according to Alshawi, very useful when trying to answer specific questions or "exploratory searches". He cites "Glasgow is the * capital of Europe" as a good example of such a search.
The feature also works in any language, said Alshawi.
Testing the new functions generated some interesting results.