This is Part 2 of my series of posts summarizing a fascinating recent hour-long one on one interview with Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
Early in the interview I asked Schmidt about the future of search. I brought up the “search is 90% done” misunderstanding from last summer. Said Google Vice President Marissa Mayer at the time:
Search is a science that will develop and advance over hundreds of years. Think of it like biology and physics in the 1500s or 1600s: it’s a new science where we make big and exciting breakthroughs all the time. However, it could be a hundred years or more before we have microscopes and an understanding of the proverbial molecules and atoms of search. Just like biology and physics several hundred years ago, the biggest advances are yet to come. That’s what makes the field of Internet search so exciting.
Specifically I asked Schmidt “What are the hard things to be solved in search in the next ten years?”
His lengthy answer meandered around a central theme, that Google needs to move “from words to meaning.” In other words, Google needs to understand queries better, and return results that best match the real meaning of a query. “We have to get from the sort of casual use of asking, querying…to “what did you mean?””
He then took a detour and shared a (non-serious) approach that cofounder Sergey Brin has talked about internally – direct brain implants:
Now, Sergey argues that the correct thing to do is to just connect it straight to your brain. In other words, you know, wire it into your head. And so we joke about this and said, we have not quite figured out what that problem looks like…But that would solve the problem. In other words, if we just – if you had the thought and we knew what you meant, we could run it and we could run it in parallel.
When I (again, jokingly) asked if Google was working on that product, he answered “Well, I wish we were. But we don’t exactly have all the medical clinics necessary to test brain insertion.”
But he also had a serious point. One big problem with search is a proper understanding of what exactly the user wants. And then how to pair that with exponential growth in datasets:
Okay. So to me, the question is sort of, what’s next, is really basically how far does the artificial intelligence technology go here? How many signals can we get from who you are, where you are, what you’ve been, what you’ve done and so forth to refine that querying? And at the same time, you also have this enormous expansion of data sets. I think what people are missing is that the amount of information on the Internet is growing very, very rapidly…Because it gets more open, people put more data on it and so forth and so on and that’s wonderful. Also, you have all these dynamic databases that are now – they basically publish that at web pages and again index them as well.
The long term goal of Google search, he says, is to give the user one exactly right answer to a query:
So I don’t know how to characterize the next 10 years except to say that we’ll get to the point – the long-term goal is to be able to give you one answer, which is exactly the right answer over time. Okay, you know, the question I’ll ask today, how many Americans have – what percentage of Americans have passports?…The Google’s answer was a site, which was somebody who had attempted to answer that question and had multiple answers. It’s quite interesting actually to read…So you go to a very good definitive site. And what I’d like to do is to get to the point where we could read his site and then summarize what it says, and answer the question…Along with the citation and so forth and so on.
More interesting topics from the interview coming up soon.