Dyson said, "I don't see the quality of search improving very much. Search is like telling a dog, 'Go Fetch,' I want something to 'Go Fetch and Reserve' [as in the right hotel room.]"However, what Esther is suggesting may go well beyond search. It would seem to enter into the realm of software agents.
What's needed, she said, is switching from a "search and fetch" mentality to a "deliver, act and transact" perspective based on personalization.
The real winner, Dyson said, will be a custom-built tool that understands the nuance of an individual, his or her phrasing, and specific likes and dislikes. This tool will incorporate both domain knowledge and user knowledge.
To "deliver, act, and transact", not only would the computer need to understand intent, but also it may have to come up with complicated plans to satisfy the request. It would have to have a rich understanding of information acquired, combine information from multiple sources, interact with external actors, and deal with uncertainty in information, actions, and intent.
At this point, you are basically talking about building a software robot, a softbot. Building the brains behind a software servant that can deliver, act, and transact is going to be about as hard as building the brains behind a hardware robot servant. Dropping motor skills does not ease the task of building higher brain functions.
A hard problem indeed. And one we are a long, long way from solving.