World-renowned artificial intelligence expert and Google’s new Director of Engineering, Ray Kurzweil, wants to build a search engine so sophisticated that it could act like a ‘cybernetic friend,’ who knows users better than they know themselves. “I envision in some years that the majority of search queries will be answered without you actually asking,” he said at an intimate gathering at Singularity University’s NASA campus.
Kurzweil, a noted futurist and engineer, tells me in a rare follow-up interview that CEO Larry Page offered him the job after learning of his intention to start a company to build his long-held dream of an artificially intelligent computer. “Why don’t you do that here?” Page asked him. “Google is quite unique,” explains Kurzweil, on his decision to head to the search giant, rather than venture out on his own. “It fundamentally deals with language.”
Language, Kurzweil argues, is the window to creating a genuine artificial brain, that can understand the meaning of ideas and concepts. “If you write a blog post, you’re not just creating a bag of words, you’re creating some meaningful sentences.” For now, search engines have brute-force algorithms that pick out key words in popular pages and hope that the results, on average, will yield the best information.
So-called “semantic” search parses the meaning and intentions behind words. Semantic search aims to solve the ‘hotdog’ problem, as explained by Google’s Chairman, Eric Schmidt,
“Is it a ‘hot dog’ or a ‘hotdog.’ And, if you knew something about whether the person had dogs, or whether the person was a vegetarian, you’d have a very different potential answer to that question.”
Eventually Google will understand why users are searching for information and provide them with answers they didn’t even know they needed. The education of such an omnipotent new mind will take the vast stores of Google’s database. Perhaps more than any other company, explains Kurzweil, Google has access to the “things you read, what you write, in your emails or blog posts, and so on, even your conversations, what you hear, what you say.”
Google can combine the personalized recommendations of a friend (who often know us better than we know ourselves) with the sum of all human knowledge, creating a sort of super best friend.
This friend of yours, this cybernetic friend, that knows that you that have certain questions about certain health issues or business strategies. And, It can then be canvassing all the new information that comes out in the world every minute and then bring things to your attention without you asking about them
Kurzweil was quick to dispel the myth he was given “unlimited” funds, but humbly suggests that Google is giving him “sufficient resources for a very important project.”