Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Esther Dyson on the future of search

Laurie Petersen reports on a keynote by Esther Dyson at the Search Insider Summit.

Some excerpts:
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.]"

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.
However, what Esther is suggesting may go well beyond search. It would seem to enter into the realm of software agents.

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.


Anonymous said...

Has Esther Dyson, or anyone at all,
ever correctly predicted the future of

You can put all these keynote speakers
in the 70s on the ARPAnet and see if they
could have predicted email, the web,
instant messaging, e-commerce, file sharing,
social networking, or any of the other stuff that
actually works and flourishes.

Mike Dierken said...

What would be a first step towards an agent based system?
With more and more well-described services perhaps an agent could find and prepare for purchase - add to cart, create reservation, etc- interesting items.

Anonymous said...

I may very well be wrong, but I thought Esther Dyson was/is an early investor in Powerset. So despite what her mouth says about personalization, it seems that her money is on strong NLP. Or maybe she has personalization investments, too, and is just hedging her bets..

Max Lybbert said...

Thinking this over, the bots that make Google's search work are very rudimentary "deliver, act and transact" softbots (follow all the links on the page, follow algorithms to determine the quality of the page, put the page in a database, use other algorithms to determine the meaning of words on the page compared to the meaning of words in a search query).

I'm not saying that we're very close. I am saying that we've started. Getting from where we are to where Dyson is suggesting (essentially a portal where you can build your own Googlebots without actually programming them -- think Yahoo Pipes coupled with (a) some form of Bayesian statistics or real AI algorithms, *and* (b) some programmability to react to (a)'s discoveries) is a long way off. But I do think we've started.