Google's search engine is already pretty impressive, and it is subtly getting smarter every day. But the company's plans for it will see users in the near future being supplied with perfectly contextual results that it says will amaze them.
Speaking at the Futurapolis conference in Toulouse, Behshad Behzadi, director of search innovation at Google's Zurich lab, said there were four ways that the company was looking at to take the service to the next level. ''The future of search is to try to build the ultimate personal assistant,'' Behzadi said. Venture Beat broke down the four key areas where Google believed the future lay, starting with voice and how Google was working towards a future where we would all talk to our search engines as though we were talking to a friend.
More people are opting to use voice searches, because the error rate has become far lower than it was just a few years ago. Google had a one-in-four error rate with spoken search two years ago, but now that rate is just one-in-16. Searches are slowly evolving to sound like natural conversations – something like what we saw in the movie Her. Behzadi believes this level of sophistication is not too far off.
All about context
You will have noticed that Google is becoming scarily good at being able to bring up search results before you have even finished typing them out. We are not just talking about predicting the end of a word, we are talking about it being able to figure out multiple word queries – as though it is reading your mind. Of course, the search engine not actually psychic but its ability to put searches into context and pre-empt what you are looking for is the next closest thing. It knows what you've searched for in the past so is able to figure out what you are trying to ask. In the future, it will be able to have results waiting for you before you have even opened the app. This is all down to context – knowing what you like, where you are and what you tend to search for.
For instance, those who regularly search for golf articles could type in "Royal" – something that could be followed by hundreds of different words – but for that particular person Google is smart enough to follow with "Troon", which is the course where the Open Championship is played. Should another person be an avid baker who searches recipes a lot the word "Royal" might be followed by "icing recipe" – see where we are going here?
What's that over there?
It would be great if you could just ask Google a question such as this when you are out and about, without having to be so specific. Well, location plays a huge role in being able to offer contextual results and is a pivotal aspect when searching on mobile. Anyone using Google Maps will know it already suggests a nearby road or point of interest you are looking for by only typing a few characters. Behzadi said that Google's location-awareness was growing more powerful and would eventually be smart enough to pro-actively alert you to things nearby that were of interest to you. It would also be able to handle the vaguest of queries based on where you were, so you could say "what's that building over there?" just as you would to a friend and it could work out what you were talking about. Behzadi gave the example of someone on a hike asking "what's that lake?" and getting an answer, which was something that would turn search into an incredibly intuitive tool.
Google getting to know you
Finally, Google's collection of personal information, while quite controversial, could transform how its future search could become a highly-tailored and efficient tool. As Google learns more about you, it can deliver alerts and specialised suggestions specific to you, according to Behzadi. It is already doing that in a small way for users of Gmail and Google Calendars. Knowing your schedule or that you have a meeting across town, it could offer suggestions for the best coffee shops before you even needed to search for them. Naturally, we are all wary of its omniscience but over time this could turn from a contentious feature to best friend.
The future of Google's search is certainly exciting and is one that is evolving right before our eyes. We cannot wait for the day we can have intelligent conversations with our search engine – just think how handy that would be as a tourist. It makes you wonder why we ever used Ask Jeeves.