The Zen of Ask Jeeves

Microsoft has enlisted the 'plain English' search engine Ask Jeeves to help answer Windows 2000 questions? That could be plain wacky.

Microsoft is taking advantage of the pause before Windows 2000 to beef up its support services.

Online questions about Windows products will be handled by Ask Jeeves, the "plain English search engine," the software giant announced this week.

But the folks at Redmond may have their hands full keeping Jeeves out of the virtual cooking sherry.

Sometimes he acts like the "plain wacky search engine."

Ask Jeeves (Nasdaq:ASKJ) what he thinks about Microsoft's (Nasdaq:MSFT) founder, and he fires back, "Where can I see Bill Gates get hit with a pie?"

Ask Jeeves, "What is the best operating system for PCs?" He doesn't miss a beat: "Why are Macintosh computers better than PCs?"

Playing 'Jeopardy' with Jeeves
Extra credit for putting your response in the form of a question, Jeeves, but think about your career!

"Are you worried about jeopardizing your future?" I asked.

Predictably, Jeeves retrieved a bunch of "Jeopardy" links.

But the word "future" also triggered "Where can I find a Magic 8 Ball reading?"

In for a penny, in for a pound, I clicked through and posed the question, "Is Jeeves headed for trouble?"

"Don't count on it," was the answer.

Plain English aside, Jeeves is like any other search engine, glomming onto words without a clue about context. The quirky responses to the simplest questions often have a Delphic air of inscrutability.

"What are the major events of 1974" brings no references to Watergate.

Instead I am offered answers to:

"How relevant is my college degree to my career?"

"Where can I find information on performing arts in Albuquerque?"

... and the all-time cake-taker:

"What is Psychosynthesis?"

Zen and the art of asking Jeeves
With that, I began to suspect that my all my theories about Jeeves were wrong.

There is a consciousness behind those raised eyebrows.

One click and I found myself staring at The Zen of Jeeves:

"Psychosynthesis is simply a name for the process of growth -- the integration of previously separate elements ... It believes each of us has an innate drive toward the unfolding of ourselves, and that we can choose to consciously support that process. While it is generally known that we have a responsibility to this end, we have not always known how to go about it."

We are all Bill Gates.

We are all Albuquerque.

Jeeves knows.