Move over Siri, I mean it, get out of the way now. Google Now is coming to iOS with the design of becoming the best damned virtual assistant on the block. Google Now is what Google expects will keep them at the forefront of search as more people shift to mobile search and sooner rather that later, wearable search.
Google Now Features
Imagine the computer you simply ask anything from, that computer from Star Trek that talks to you in a sexy voice, brings up maps, calenders, emails, sports scores, stock prices, audio, video, the lot. This is not something for the distant future but one that iOS users will have access to beginning this week. It’s also a technology that has personal assistants brushing up their resumes. The possibilities are nearly endless, and while still in its infancy it is something that’s quite impressive for its age.
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Google search chief Amit Singhal might have said it best when he wrote the following in 2012.
“Larry Page once described the perfect search engine as understanding exactly what you mean and giving you back exactly what you want. It’s very much like the computer I dreamt about as a child growing up in India, glued to our black-and-white TV for every episode of Star Trek. I imagined a future where a starship computer would be able to answer any question I might ask, instantly. Today, we’re closer to that dream than I ever thought possible during my working life.”
Before I give way to the experts let me try to explain in layman’s terms what Google Now is right now. Presently it is a series of boxes that present you with the information you request by simply asking. While that may sound like a knock-off of Siri, Google Now and its boxes will take these queries combined with your search history, email, calender, and other smartphone applications (Google and otherwise) to tailor your requested information to you.
This will all become possible due to something Google is calling the Knowledge Graph. Google has teams focused on speech recognition, language modeling and creating a computer representation of everything that Google knows.
This is where I must hand you over to the experts with a little narration from me. Those much smarter than I am will be given italics.
“We have had a mini-revolution, based on deep learning, a set of technologies that look like the old neural networks from the 1990s that researchers hoped would turn into a way to create brains, machine robots that became sentient and took over world,” said Vincent Vanhoucke, Google’s technology lead for acoustic modeling of speech.
Tamar Yehoshua, director of product management for Google search, shares this as a practical application.
“I might be a SF Giants fan having a conversation with any device near me,” she said. “I am asking what is happening in the Giants game, who is pitching and the time of the game tomorrow, as well as asking to record the game to my DVR and remind me about the game. To solve this, we have to integrate a whole number of pieces together. It’s a hard problem but also extremely exciting.”
And we shift to another Google Wizard.
“Knowledge Graph has good coverage of people, places, things and events, but there is plenty it doesn’t know about. We are at 1 percent,” said John Giannandrea, director of engineering for Knowledge Graph. “But we are not trying to be like a person. We are trying to be both dumber and smarter. It’s a tool that gives you data, context and better understanding of a problem, but you are still making the decision.”
Each day hundreds of millions of searches are being conducted on Google and the company is using this information to build the Knowledge Graph.
“Every single day 16 percent of queries are new,” said Yehoshua. “People have new combinations of what they are searching for all the time. We need to extract what are the entities we can understand. It’s a continual process.”
This is just one challenge facing Google, sticking with Tehoshua’s example of the San Francisco Giants, I need to be able to ask Now “How did the Giants do?” and get a score from last night not a narrative on how some kid was unhappy about his “magic bean” purchase and killed the giant but also stole its gold which is trading at $1705. While interesting not what I wanted.
“There is a lot that is implied by our understanding of the world and we have to teach the system from the bottom up. We have to have an understanding of analogy, irony, illusion and all those human things. Computer history suggests this will be a game of inches, rather than a quantum leap, but the rate of progress will accelerate,” Giannandrea said.
Google Now is Sci-Fi enough at is it, now try to imagine what you’ve just read integrated into Google Glass and your transformation and integration into “The Borg Collective” will be well on its way to reality not that far from now.