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August 16, 2010

Eric Schmidt On the Future of Search

In an interesting interview for the Wall Street Journal, Google's CEO talks about the future of search. Eric Schmidt says that there are more and more implicit searches and that Google could become a virtual assistant that offers suggestions and solves problems without having to define them.

"We're still happy to be in search, believe me. But one idea is that more and more searches are done on your behalf without you needing to type. I actually think most people don't want Google to answer their questions. They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next."

As Google knows "roughly who you are, roughly what you care about, roughly who your friends are", it could suggest interesting things. For example, if you're using a smartphone, Google could inform you that there are interesting things around you (maybe a bookstore that sells a book you've added to a wishlist).

"The thing that makes newspapers so fundamentally fascinating — that serendipity — can be calculated now. We can actually produce it electronically. The power of individual targeting — the technology will be so good it will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them," says Eric Schmidt. "As you go from the search box [to the next phase of Google], you really want to go from syntax to semantics, from what you typed to what you meant. And that's basically the role of [Artificial Intelligence]. I think we will be the world leader in that for a long time."

To better understand queries and to answer questions that were never asked explicitly, Google has to learn more about users and that's one of the reasons why Google struggles to build successful social services.

Three years ago, Eric Schmidt said that "the goal [of search personalization] is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as 'What shall I do tomorrow?' and 'What job shall I take?' We cannot even answer the most basic questions because we don't know enough about you. That is the most important aspect of Google's expansion."

I don't think users "want Google to tell them what they should be doing next", but they probably want a tool that helps them solve problems, even when those problems can't be easily transformed into search queries. A real-word query can be a document, a spreadsheet, a list of words, an image, a sound, a short video, a location and it's really difficult to provide relevant results without targeting and personalization.


  1. "Become a virtual assistant that offers suggestions and solves problems without having to define them."

    It reminds me sth. Oh yes Bing idea of decision engine.

  2. As long as it's a non-sentient AI that knows enough about me to tell me what I'll be doing tomorrow, there might be no problem. But when it can be a relative or a co-worker who happens about my unlocked workstation, how do you prevent them from accessing the data about me, accidentally or intentionally? And of course there are much more sinister possibilities than just "innocent" snooping by a relative or a co-worker...

    What are Google's plans on keeping this accumulated personal data really private? I'm specifically talking about the data Google has generated, data that was not explicitly put into the system by the user. It can't be users responsibility to secure that data, when user doesn't know or even understand how much Google and other online services know about them.

  3. Die Google, DIE!

    Your monopoly is dangerous to the market. Your desire to know everything about everybody is dangerous. The ignorance of your users allows you to succeed in your evil plans. Who has money, has power. You have money, you have power. What's next? More money, more power, no competition. Those who read this message: I know you think I'm crazy! It's OK. You'll see that I was right.

  4. I'm glad to hear Google's got a bright future beyond just the standard search box: especially since my whole life is practically invested in it now . . .

    On the other hand, it does seem like Google's pretty cool about people jumping ship whenever they want to. Presumably, that will continue.

  5. I personally don't want Google telling me what I should do next. I can make that decision for myself, thank you. I agree, though, some tools to assist me in making that decision would be nice. Google should look into making an extremely comprehensive calculator system that is easy to use with a modern-looking UI.

  6. I want a peer helper, a real honest to God person that has to help me in exchange for me paying-it-forward.

    I write android code and am usually lost. On top of that, I never know what Google is going to do next. Eg should I write gPad applications or trudge along with smartphones?

  7. I just googled "what job shall i take?" and the top return was "10 Reasons You Should Never Get a Job"

    I'm not sure if it's brilliant or ridiculous.

  8. seems like google is thinking about how to counter siri ha ha

  9. Russell O'SullivanAugust 17, 2010 at 4:38 AM

    Become a virtual assistant that offers suggestions and solves problems without having to define them.

    Dont you mean offering solutions to problems you never had??

  10. I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm very worried by the collection of all this private data. I don't want Google or anyone else knowing things about me I haven't explicitly told them. That's why I have no Facebook account or similar, don't use Buzz, Latitude or any of those things and keep my phone switched off unless I'm making or expecting a call.

    I have several different email accounts and tend to make different searches using them, e.g. school-related seraches, or work-realted, or hobby- - you get the picture. Does Google think those are 3 or 4 different people?!

  11. There's a big fat assumption here: That what we click on is ultimately what we were seeking. What if we aren't satisfied with search results? What if we are constantly distracted by ads and conversations that have nothing to do with what we set out to find in the first place?

    "That's your own fault you idiot! You got distracted."

    True, to a degree, but as long as it generates sales--regardless of your initial intent to buy that overpriced widget when you began your search--Google will be satisfied and say, "we helped them get what they wanted." Really, Mr. Schmidt? Why don't you start asking your users (not just your advertisers) what they are really searching for? Facebook shouldn't have been such a surprise given the brain trust Google has at their disposal.

    Search could be so much more and, already, Google is boldly telling us they know what we want and then, presumably, what we should do next.

    Interestingly, in Saturday's paper, the WSJ posted an essay titled, "The Power Trip" that talks about how "nice people are likely to rise to power" (contrary to popular belief), but then, not so surprisingly, they get arrogant and their former brilliance starts to wane.