Thursday, April 07, 2005

Google and question answering

Jonathan Betz at Google announces Google Q&A which returns instant answers to some queries (e.g. "What is the capital of Washington state?").

Ask Jeeves and MSN Search have had this for a while, but one thing about Google's effort is particularly noteworthy. They appear to be extracting the answers from their web crawl. From an InfoWorld article:
    Google feeds this service with information from Web sites it considers reliable, but it hasn't established formal relationships with any content provider whose information is being used for this feature, [Google Director Peter] Norvig said.

    Google doesn't expect that the owners of the Web sites will complain over the possibility that this new service will steal traffic away from them, Norvig said. On the contrary, being featured at the top of Google's results list will give these Web sites great exposure, and will likely result in increased traffic.
This is a first step down a long road toward understanding the vastness of knowledge stored in the Web. At the end of this path lies a futuristic Oracle of search engines that processes and understands all of human knowledge and responds with a concise and accurate answer to any query.

It will be a long time before we get there -- I'm not sure we will in our lifetimes -- but it's exciting to see progress toward that goal.

See also coverage from Gary Price and Nathan Weinberg.

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