Google's Schmidt's Odd Vision for the Future of Search

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In a keynote talk at a German electronics conference, Google's Eric Schmidt delivered his vision for the future of search.

"The next step of search is doing this automatically. When I walk down the street, I want my smartphone to be doing searches constantly - 'did you know?', 'did you know?', 'did you know?', 'did you know?'" Schmidt said. "This notion of autonomous search - to tell me things I didn't know but am probably interested in, is the next great stage - in my view - of search."

What's fascinating about this is that it's basically the opposite of search now. Search is about finding what you want, not about finding what you are statistically likely to want. I think there is a key difference between those two things.

This is what Google thinks I am statistically likely to search when I type in "religion is":

religionis_600.jpg

What we're thinking about is only hazily connected to any of the things that Google can know about me. If I'm sitting in an office in San Francisco around lunchtime, Google may think, "Yes, he probably wants lunchtime recommendations." Or if I type in "religion is," Google's algorithms may be able to make certain suggestions, but our thoughts are not that accessible to the web's spiders.

How could they possibly know when I'm thinking about Manfred Clynes and cyborgs? Or Russia's Kola borehole? Or the mythical luz bone in Hebrew scripture?

That's one reason search is so great: I get to "pull" whatever I want out of the Internet, no matter how old I am or where my house is or what I bought last on Amazon or what anyone else has searched for.

What Schmidt is describing is push-push-push. It sounds like narrowcasting, that awkward phrase for broadcasting in an era without mass audiences. Might that be useful? Absolutely. But I don't think it will ever replace or even be seen as similar to search. Except, that is, for how Google will sell it to advertisers.


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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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