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Googling the Future

16:00 on Fri, 4 Sep 2009 | Industry Comment | 0 Comments

I'm going to give you some search-based food for thought for this weekend.

Search as a Science

Almost every year I hear the bell-ringing doomsayers that are predicting, "the end of SEO". It never happens. There's a lot of talk about the search market "coming to maturity", with universal search, better results, tracking, stable business models and the like.

I think a closer comparison would be that a lot of businesses struck gold with search and now we've got a few spades and pans and think we're near maturity, blissfully unaware of the impending rise of colossal mining machines covering the landscape.

To put a finer point on it, Google's CEO Eric Schmidt recently said in a Techcrunch interview:

Eric Schmidt

"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."

Google trumpeted the release of Google Squared at around the same time Wolfram Alpha, the "answers engine" hit the public domain. This wave of thinking, providing "answers" rather than websites is one of Google's next greatest challenges. Broadly speaking, you have 3 types of search query: Informational, navigational and transactional and for many of these queries, there exists a "correct answer".

While "words to meaning" is the staging point, this goal possibly gives light on the next decade of Google development.

Sci-Fi(act?) Time

Depending on how you're inclined, this is where the scary stuff starts to happen. Brain implants. While it sounds similar to the predictions of flying cars by the year 2000, the fact is research into brain - computer connections has been going since the early 1970s and have recently enjoyed a degree of success, from controlling other electrical devices by thought, to recovering the ability to use paralysed limbs.

The need to "remember" information and facts has also become a topic for debate, are computers making us more stupid? With my iphone on me, what need to do I have to try and remember trivial information that can instantly and accurately be brought up within a few seconds? Or is this simply giving me spare brain capacity to work on the bigger challenges?

In a recent inteview with Wired.co.uk, Schmidt describes Google as the third part of the human brain:

"..you know, there’s a left brain, a right brain and there’s a third part where that collective intelligence that Google can help bring to you really helps you get through every day: the history of places, what you should do, collecting things for you, telling you what’s relevant – the things that computers do best that humans are not good at. And that will leave humans to spend more time doing what humans do best, the things computers are not very good at"

There's no doubt that Google is helping people educate themselves, when lost for an answer, I no longer have to make a trip to the library, or ask around for answer, I can find it myself in minutes. One thing did stick in my mind though. A couple of years ago I saw the BT future predictions timeline. A brief look into what the telecomms giant thinks may be happening over the next 50 years.

Aside from "Terminator 3 style robots", one thing worried me: "2026 - 2030: Virus crosses over from machine to human".

I take all of these predictions with a handful of salt and I'm not one to worry about the future doom of man, but this one did make sense to me. If we've established an effective link whereby computers can read (or more likely, predict) the mind, it makes sense this might be a two-way deal.

I really don't want to think about installing anti-virus software in my brain. Or cross-human-scripting.


Lots of worry about Google

While Google has generally good spin within the UK media, there have been several backlashes with their agenda of  "collecting and sorting the world's information",  from their street mapping to the even more controversial hosting of UK medical records.

Compared to a search giant directly connecting with peoples' brains (indexing thoughts?), some of these worries seem trivial. The fact is, they aren't trivial. The worries stem from the possibility of one company being able to own and manipulate the world's data.

Something to think about this weekend :)



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