Saturday, September 18, 2010

Eric Schmidt on automatic search

Google CEO Eric Schmidt talks up automatic search from mobile devices:
Ultimately, search is not just the web but literally all of your information - your email, the things you care about, with your permission - this is personal search, for you and only for you.

"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?'.

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.
While I agree with the idea of heavily localized and personalized searches, especially on mobile devices, I think this autonomous search feature sounds really annoying. You don't want to get in people's way. You don't want to interrupt them with something unimportant, especially if you are interrupting someone who is trying to get something done.

Perhaps what might be desirable would be better described as recommendations and personalized advertising, not as some Googly version of Clippy popping up and chirping, "Did you know? Did you know?"

Update: Interesting discussion in the comments about whether what Google is building is really personalized advertising, not search.


Steve Flinn said...

I agree -- it always humorous to see Google's contortions in portraying the seach tail wagging the recommendations dog.

Clearly the more appropriate abstraction, as you have suggested, is that a search response is just a recommendation that takes into account intentionality inferred from the search term.

And so it is clearly personalized, non-prompted recommendations (not search) that Schmidt is really talking about, and those could be useful or really spammy depending on the implementation.

Paul said...

Whether it's search or recommendation, it could be very useful if properly implemented.

"You've been assigned the task of writing a curse-word detection algorithm? George wrote one a few years back, maybe you should talk to him first"

"Buying spinach? There's a recall going on"

"Anniversary is next week: The wife has been talking about wanting to go to restaurant X lately"

Search works when there's something you want to know, but there's no paradigm for unknown unknowns yet.

Val said...

The amount of personal data available to our digital butlers is skyrocketing, as is the bandwidth between humans and computers.

I can speak to my phone, sending texts to friends or searching for a pancake house without typing a thing. I can take a photo of a business card and it is decoded and the information added to my contact list.

Today it is mostly obvious when you do a search - you go to some search service and type a question. But what happens when search isn't obvious - when you are feeding your computers so much data that it is constantly looking for connections or useful ways of processing it for you?

The novel Accelerando opened with a near-future view that painted a vision of automatic search, and it was about as far removed from clippy as we are from amoeba.

Rangachari Anand said...

I have a habit of casually Googling the name of anyone I meet who has a distinctive name. Before smart phones, I would have to wait until I got back to my desk but I can do it now on-the-fly.

From this, stepping up to continuous searches for things in the environment does not seem like such a big step.

Dinesh Vadhia said...

As an aside: does anyone know if the recommendations for example, by Amazon or are dynamic or pre-calculated?

Looking at data recently which is available through their APIs, I noticed that the artist recommendations are pre-calculated. My first thought was that is weird but then maybe it isn't?

Dinesh Vadhia said...

It seems to me that what Google means by 'autonomous search' or 'implicit search' is to automatically formulate a query on a mobile device based on dynamic (real-time) contextual information which is then sent to Google to retrieve a small number of results. A number of patents in this area can be found with the author name Steve Lawrence.

Unless I've missed something, this doesn't sound like personalized recommendations.

Dinesh Vadhia said...

@ Greg

Just read the "The Autonomy of Google And Facebook Services" "". I'm curious to know why you think Eric Schmidt didn't mean "autonomous search" as "personalization and localization of content"?

It could have just been marketing bluster ie. "look how cool it would be to have Google continually tell me all the cool things to see and do while I'm out and about". Instead, he could have said, "When prompted, Google will tell me about things to see and do while I'm out and about" which is less big brother.

In the video of the talk, Schmidt does talk about autonomous search, implicit search, collaborative filtering (CF) and serendipity engine. Putting all this together, it sounds like they are tying implicit search to a CF system.

Then again, healthy paranoia and skepticism is good!

Greg Linden said...

Hi, Dinesh. If that's what they're doing, I couldn't agree more that it is a great idea! I've been pushing on personalization and localization of information for a long time. What Google is doing sounds like great fun!

It's not totally clear from the outside, but it may be the case that Marissa Mayer is the one leading this effort, moving from her old job as head of user experience across all Google products to leading this effort on localization for mobile devices. Exciting for her!

Dinesh Vadhia said...

@ greg
From this article, it says, "This all happens based on preferences the user has indicated from previous searches that the serendipity engine collected for the user, such as that the user happens to like Italian food."

This is implicit search that I mentioned earlier which is also called autonomous search. Now add location and Google can offer personalized recommendations and/or personalized ads.

Greg Linden said...

Still sounds like personalized advertising, not search, to me. Just look at the example, walking down the street, then being told of an opportunity at a business nearby. That's advertising (unless we want to go as far as to say that advertising is just another form of search, but that starts to get a little vacuous since almost any algorithm can be rephrased as a search algorithm). Anyway, whatever Google wants to call it, it clearly is a very big business for whoever can do it well.

Dinesh Vadhia said...

I agree with you! I left out that Schmidt/Google are using the word "search" loosely wrt autonomous search.

Anonymous said...


Key question is what problem is Eric trying to solve ... google's or users ... this sounds like google's problem to stay ahead of Facebook

I think Steve is correct is stating taht eric is talking about recommendations ... the question is what what problem are is google solving for ... not a customer problem 99% of the time ...