Google CEO Schmidt Pitches Autonomous Search, Flirts with AI

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-09-28

Google CEO Schmidt Pitches Autonomous Search, Flirts with AI

Google CEO Eric Schmidt said the symbiotic relationship between humans and computers is driving the search engine to work on autonomous search, where users receive search suggestions on their mobile phone without having to type any queries.

Schmidt, speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco Sept. 28, said that while the Google Instant predictive search technology helps shave an average of 2 seconds off users' queries, the next step is "autonomous search."

This means Google will conduct searches for users without them having to manually conduct searches. As an example, Schmidt said he could be walking down the streets of San Francisco and receive information about the places around him on his mobile phone without having to click any buttons.

"Think of it as a serendipity engine," Schmidt said. "Think of it as a new way of thinking about traditional text search where you don't even have to type."

Schmidt said the technology sector is moving toward building an "augmented version of humanity," to get computers to help people do things that they're not good at while also helping computers do things that they're not good at.

In other words, the door swings both ways for humans and computers. Today, Google provides search suggestions to the computer.

In the near feature, Schmidt said, Google's search engine will interpret a query such as "What's the weather like?" to mean that a searcher wants to know whether or not he needs to wear a raincoat or water the plants.

"With improvements in algorithms, more information, with your permission and so forth, we can get closer to answer the question that you really asked," Schmidt revealed.

With such personal search on the way, Google will have to be very careful about how it positions and preserves consumer privacy. This sort of semantic search is one of many Google baby steps toward the artificial intelligence system Google so desperately wants to realize.

To get there, Google has two primary vehicles: the mobile Web-smartphones in particular-and cloud computing.

Schmidt Explains How Mobile, Cloud Inform Google


Schmidt said smartphones will surpass PC sales within two years and so vendors' strategies should be "mobile first." Google has bet heavily on mobile, developing its Android operating system to power people on the go.

He noted that LTE, or Long Term Evolution, will roll out from wireless carriers in the United States and abroad, bringing average performance of 8 to 10 megabits per second to wireless networks. Faster WiFi connectivity will lead to more consumption of Web services made by Google and others.

Pairing cloud computing infrastructure with mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers will also be important, Schmidt said.

For example, he noted that Google will soon enable users to speak into their phone in English and have it translated into another language by speech-to-text translation software hosted on Google's cloud of thousands of servers in a remote data center.

These technologies are all rooted in speedier Web service consumption, providing efficiencies in a world racked by information overload where people still have too much to do.

Longer term, the more efficient application of Google's technologies will boost peoples' happiness, Schmidt said.

"The use of computers, the use of the information, the use of all of the things that we're all building can make us all have better, more productive, more fun, more entertaining lives, and that to me is that opportunity that is really before us," Schmidt said.

This rhetoric hews to Google's Don't Be Evil ethos on the surface. Yet the company's success is best measured by the $24 billion a year it racks up in online advertising, mostly through search keywords.

The search engine is seeking to find other strong areas of growth.

Google offers cloud computing collaboration software for businesses, where it competes with Microsoft and IBM; social search paired with ads, where it competes with Facebook; and mobile advertising, where it faces strong competition from Apple's iAd in-app ad platform.

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