Google Gets More Predictive

October 30, 2012

I heard the cheerleading over the news broadcasts about the terrible storm. I urge you to read “Google Now: Behind the Predictive Future of Search.” But the “real” story from the “real” journalist is the subtitle: “How Google Learned to Un Fragment Itself and Create the Next Big Thing.” Faint praise. No. Bold assertions about the “un fragmented Google.”

The guts of the story pivot on Google’s new service Google Now. The idea is that “now” information is what defines the modern mobile user. I use my mobile as a phone and to check email. Therefore, I struggle with the “predictive future” thing.

The idea is that

… your phone is more “Personal Assistant” than “Bar bet settler.” The difference is that the former actually understands what you need while the latter is a blunt search instrument.

Universal appeal is assumed. The secret ingredient for the predictive search magic is Android 4.2.

Here’s the write up’s digest of the “big thing”:

It’s essentially an app that combines two important functions: voice search and “cards” that bubble up relevant information on a contextual basis. Actually, Google Now technically only refers to the ambient information part of the equation, a branding kerfuffle that distinguishes it from Apple’s Siri product yet still causes confusion. Those cards might contain local restaurants, the traffic on your commute home, or when your flight is about to take off. They appear automatically as Google tries to guess the information you’ll need at any given moment. While it seems like a relatively simple service, it’s only really possible because of the massive amount of computational power Google can leverage alongside the massive amount of data Google knows about you thanks to your searches.

The predictive search functionality has been part of Google Web search since August 2012. The key point is:

These new cards are actually similar to a feature that Google added to its web search results this past August, both in content and in style. That’s probably not an accident — if you assume Google has already won the battle for search, the next battle is giving you information before you even search for it. When it comes to deciding which data to give you, Barra tells us that Google has “a pipeline [...], possibly in the hundreds of cards” from its many engineering teams. Rather than flood users with all of those new cards, Google is taking a slow and steady approach to adding those new features — if only because right now it can only add those cards with a software update.

The numerical recipes behind the Now service include neural networks (what I call smart software) and knowledge graphs (entity relationships). Both of these methods have been in development and use for years. Google itself owns a chunk of a company which has quite sophisticated predictive technology. There is more to come from Google, including hot visualizations and improved voice interaction with mobile devices.

If you want to see a write up that puts the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders to shame, check out this story. Like the cheerleaders, there will be changes in the line up with each update cycle. For now, the magic is in the eye of the True Believer.

I just make voice calls and check email.

Stephen E Arnold, October 31, 2012

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