Google is relaxing its normally extreme secrecy over its flagship Search technology to reveal how it is about to get much more (artificially) intelligent. The Wall Street Journal's Amir Efrati tells us that Google is gearing up for one of the biggest overhauls of its search engine in the company's history. In the near future, when you Google things, you'll not only get a list of links but also answers to questions you didn't even ask. Sound cool? That totally depends on how well Google pulls off the challenge of making artificially intelligent software.
It's not news that Google is improving Search -- it's always making little tweaks to the algorithm. It is, however, a pretty big deal that they're giving their cash cow a complete makeover. Good old fashioned Googling isn't disappearing, however. Efrati's sources say that the changes "could directly impact the search results for 10 percent to 20 percent of all search queries, or tens of billions per month." Thought that leaves a lot of search results untouched, it's enough to send SEO wizards reeling over how to update their websites in order to keep good Google rankings. As such, SEO-dependent sites like About.com and The Huffington Post will likely see a major dip in traffic. But for you and me, this new strategy could make life a little bit easier.
Google's new search strategy sounds an awful lot like Wolfram Alpha. (If you haven't heard of Wolfram Alpha, just go try it. It's like Google and Ask Jeeves had a baby, who turned out to be a genius.) The approach is called "semantic search," and as the name implies, it focuses on symbolic connections between pieces of information on the Internet. It's basically artificial intelligence. In the future, when you Google the phrase "Titanic history," your search results will not only show you a list of web pages containing those words but also results that any reasonable human being would realize is relevant. The results page might have a section with links to pages about the RMS Titanic, including basic "attributes" about certain parts of the Titanic story, as well as a separate section devoted to the movie Titanic, including links to the cast and crew's bios and whatnot. You might not love how Google is trying to read your mind, but deep down, it's all math. The company is not reading your mind.
Obviously, Google wouldn't put so much work into revamping its flagship product, if it didn't think there would be a big payoff. "The Internet giant is trying to stay ahead of Microsoft Corp.'s Bing in Web search, catch up to Apple Inc.'s Siri voice-activated mobile search, and beat back rivals in niches such as product search," Efrati writes. "Some semantic-search experts also believe the move will help Google to keep up with Facebook Inc., the social network that also has amassed a database about hundreds of millions of people, places and things but hasn't offered a robust search service." The Journal report also points out that Google wins 75 percent of the ad-dollars spent on search, money makes up the majority of the company's $37 billion annual revenue stream. Google declined to comment for Efrati's story.
What's really interesting about all the new details that have leaked out about Google's search overhaul is that they didn't exactly leak. Google search executive Amit Singhal has been talking and blogging about the changes for a while now. He's the one who penned the official blog post explaining what's happening in that search quality meeting earlier this week and is also the guy that leads the meeting.
In the blog post, Singhal admits that showing people how the sausage is made -- again, this is the first time they've ever exposed details about how Google really works -- is "an experiment" and asks for feedback. Will Google take that feedback and turn it into new features that they can sell ads against? We don't know, maybe!
It's no mystery that Google wants to dominate the market for search. This is how capitalism works and also why lawmakers keep asking Google executives to come to Capitol Hill in order to explain themselves. Whether or not they're overstepping legal boundaries in stomping down competitors is up to the police to decide. But with a new Google on the way, it will be even harder for everybody to figure it out. (Seriously, do you know how "semantic search" really works? We don't. We did see the movie A.I., though.) Whether the new transparency efforts are enough to keep the watchdogs out of their yard while not giving their competitors too many clues, well, Google will have to decide that.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.