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Is Google's Future: Star Trek? 446

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i'll-believe-it-when-I-see-it dept.
An anonymous reader writes "ZDNet UK has an interview with Google's CTO, Craig Silverstein, and he's got some pretty cool visions: "When search grows up, it will look like Star Trek: you talk into the air ("Computer! What's the situation down on the planet?") and the computer processes your question, figures out its context, figures out what response you're looking for, searches a giant database in who-knows-how-many languages, translates/analyses/summarises all the results, and presents them back to you in a pleasant voice." Now that's the search engine I want." The NLP required for this is far off, but it sure will be cool when we get there.
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Is Google's Future: Star Trek?

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  • by grasshoppa (657393) * <skennedyNO@SPAMtpno-co.org> on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:00PM (#7116919) Homepage
    Make it so. :)
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:22PM (#7117213)
      As you are no doubt aware google is built upon linux which is a derivative of UNIX SysV. Therefore Google is our intellectual property.

      A binary only runtime license to mod you up will shortly be availiable for $699.

      --Darl McBride
  • Where's the story. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NightSpots (682462) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:02PM (#7116947) Homepage
    I know google's great and all, but this is basically a "we want to be able to do everything cool with computers and AI, but we don't know when that's going to happen" type story.

    I imagine if you ask Microsoft, Apple, or Palm, they'll mimic those goals. NLP, instant searching, instant translations, it's all well and good, but where's the story?
    • You're daft man. You can fully expect this to be standard equipment on your next flying car and/or personal jet pack.

      KFG
    • by SEWilco (27983)
      ("Computer! What's the situation down on the planet?")

      This is not an NLP problem.
      It is an AI problem.

      • Which planet? There are 87 rooms discussing planets. Bridge... has been discussing the nearby planet, fifth in this system, the homeworld of the researchers, time until refitting at Earth...
      • Which situation? Charge level of the hand phasers in the shuttle craft, percent of cargo loaded, two crew members in the woods, times until sunsets, how many agenda items have been completed, percent of village co
  • ...and not 'Hal', it's fine by me.
  • by MoxCamel (20484) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:02PM (#7116952)
    Captain: Tea, hot, Earl grey.
    Computer: Did you mean Hot Teen URL's
  • Hmm... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ikn (712788) <rsmith29@a[ ]ni.nd.edu ['lum' in gap]> on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:03PM (#7116954) Homepage
    This week, not only will we have answered the question of just how much of our knowledge we base from the Internet (Google, by and large), but how we can make it even easier to use. Anyone see any searchable database on the Web with the potential to topple what Google has become / could become?
    • Go to Webmasterworld (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:16PM (#7117131)
      On webmasterworld [webmasterworld.com] this very topic is discussed all the time (though mostly by search engine optimizers who apparently have nothing better to do with their time). If you can put up with the marketroids, it's actually a very useful website.

      Alltheweb and Teoma seem to be Google's most credible challengers technology-wise, although Microsoft is also now developing its own search engine.

      Google, seeing the risk, overhauled their search engine this summer--I wonder if anyone here has noticed the difference.
    • Anyone see any searchable database on the Web with the potential to topple what Google has become / could become?


      Well, maybe. But Google can easilly regain any losses my simply making a text-to-speech interface, and have Majel Roddenberry [roddenberry.com] do the voice.

    • "Anyone see any searchable database on the Web with the potential to topple what Google has become / could become?"

      I don't why it didn't occur to me before, but something about your statement set off alarm bells in my little head. Maybe there's more to Google than meets the eye. Maybe, they should have named it, SkyNet.
      • Re:Hmm... (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Ikn (712788)
        In all seriousness, this does smell a little of impending market dominance. With Google already standing fairly tall over other engines, showing goals as lofty yet plausible as voice recognition / instant translation / etc, might we be seeing the MSFT of search engines about to lock in it's position? And if so...does it seem like such a bad thing in this case?
  • by MasTRE (588396) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:03PM (#7116961)
    [Scotty talking into Mac+ mouse] Computer? Hello computer?
  • ...does it *have* to have the voice of Majel Barrett?
  • Given the state of the internet, and the trends we can see concerning innovation in that area, I think the search of the future is more likely to sound like "Computer, today I feel like read heads..."

    Whether that's good or bad, I suppose, depends on you...
  • Quantum Searching (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Infernon (460398) * <infernon@gmAAAail.com minus threevowels> on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:04PM (#7116978)
    With technologies such as quantum computing down the road, I couldn't possibly envision a future where this isn't a possibility.
    There was a short on NPR that explained it the best: Imagine looking for a person when only knowing their phone number. Today we look through the phonebook one name at a time, but with quantum computing, we'd look at the entire phonebook at once.
    • There was a short on NPR that explained it the best: Imagine looking for a person when only knowing their phone number. Today we look through the phonebook one name at a time, but with quantum computing, we'd look at the entire phonebook at once.

      Cute, but wrong. Phone books are invariably in sorted order and a simple binary search scales well past anything we'll ever need to worry about.

      And the quantum computer has be large enough to hold the entire phonebook at once while remaining in an entangled state
      • Uh.. He's searching by phone number not by name.

        I think you're the kind of person who in 1993 would not have "laid money on" something as crazy as a 5 GHz processor, too.

        "Gee, the rate of advancement of computer technology has only blown us away 188747121 times in the past. It surely won't do it again."

        I'm laughing at you preemptively.

    • Two Words: Reverse Directory
    • by DoNotTauntHappyFunBa (592447) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:20PM (#7117182)

      Imagine looking for a person when only knowing their phone number.

      Hmmm...

      1. Pick up telephone
      2. Dial phone number
    • Actually, just type the phone number into google. Try it, type in your number, I used the format ###-###-#### and it came up with my name, address and a link to a map (Yahoo! maps and Mapquest). As long as it's not unlisted, or a cell phone, there is a good chance it will come up.

      I'm not sure if it requires the phone company to give the information to google, but my number, my parents number and my inlaws' numbers were in there, and we are all in different states with different phone companies.
    • Imagine looking for a person when only knowing their phone number. Today we look through the phonebook one name at a time

      Funny, if I only have their number I would look through the phonebook one number at a time.
  • AI searches (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nykon (304003) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:04PM (#7116982) Homepage
    Are not that far off, but with my work in AI or "smart" anything devices, always come up with the same results. The weakest link is not the technoligy but more so the people using it. Remember, everytime you think you make something idiot proof, they build a better idiot.
    • by Dausha (546002)
      User: Computer, where can I find a good deal on a new computer.

      AI Computer: User, I'm sorry, but I cannot allow that. *zap!*
  • by FreeLinux (555387) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:05PM (#7116996)
    It's about voice recognition and its reliability. I think that everyone expects that this future is inevitable but, until voice recognition reaches a point were it can reliably interpret a vast vocabulary from multiple voices and accents, none of this can happen.

    To be sure, progress is definitely being made in voice recognition technology. But, that progress is slow and we are still many stardates away from success.
    • I'd say it's not even about voice recognition either. It's about having strong AI. Until computer really understands your questions in some "deeper" way, you wouldn't be able to answer questions like the one given in the article. Or at least you wouldn't be able to do that very well.
    • rtfa, smart guy. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Elwood P Dowd (16933) <judgmentalist@gmail.com> on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:20PM (#7117189) Journal
      More context for that quote:

      "When search grows up, it will look like Star Trek: you talk into the air ("Computer! What's the situation down on the planet?") and the computer processes your question, figures out its context, figures out what response you're looking for, searches a giant database in who-knows-how-many languages, translates/analyses/summarises all the results, and presents them back to you in a pleasant voice. I think this technology is about, oh, 300 years off. Just getting the computer to understand your question, much less the context it's being asked in, is way beyond the state of the art in computer science right now."
    • by Sabalon (1684) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @05:01PM (#7117664)
      Voice recognition is actually the simple part.

      The hard part is figuring out what I'm asking. When I say "What's going on in the world?" what do I want to know? If I ask "when's the next showing of LotR?" how does it figure all that out? Or even better is how to personalize it. If I ask "Is there anything on TV?" I don't expect "Yes." I expect it to know what kinda stuff I may like and base it's answer on that (talking TiVo?)

      Basically I want a mix between the Enterprise and KITT.

      Q&A used to have this built into their database years ago. You could ask it questions such as "how many widgets were sold in march?". If it didn't know what a widget was, it'd prompt you on how to define one (ie. where column B='WIDGET') and would ask you how to determin if something was sold, etc... This was back in around '86 or so. Way ahead of it's time.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 02, 2003 @05:57PM (#7118252)
      It's about voice recognition and its reliability.

      That's part of it. But the bigger problem I see with this scenario is getting humans to verbalize what they're really looking for. I work for a public library, answering computer questions for the public. Finding the answer is not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is getting the public to accurately explain what the hell they're looking for.

      That requires two things:
      1. Knowing what they really are looking for
      2. Being able to verbalize it

      In some ways, the written word is superior because often when they write the actual words, people are more specific about what they need. Usually they've considered it and narrowed it down a bit (though not always).

      Real life examples of humans searching for info:
      "Where are the art books?" Actual need: tattoo information
      "I need a book on Microsoft." Actual need: Learning that the Enter key will move you down to the next line when using a word processing program such as Word
      "When I was little, I really liked this book you had. The little girl in it was named Jane or Joan, I think. I think it was blue. Do you know it?"

      As you can see, many people do not give enough information or context on their first try. So computers would have to learn how to ask questions for more input and get people to narrow things down. And while that's easy in some situations, it can be difficult to guess the correct context in others.

      That technology seems years away to me.

    • by NanoGator (522640) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @06:15PM (#7118436) Homepage Journal
      " until voice recognition reaches a point were it can reliably interpret a vast vocabulary from multiple voices and accents, none of this can happen."

      That technology is here today. The big problem isn't in understanding the signals, it's in understanding the context. There are systems today that can hear what you're saying, and recognize when it hears a command. I have one of those R2-D2 toys. It is very good at hearing you say "Hey R2!". UPS has a phone system where it asks you to say out loud your tracking number. It worked! Even Microsoft's got a speech recognition demo. While playing with it, it was giving me a decent transcript of what it was hearing on TV. (Note: this wasn't intentional, I didn't have the mic like right up to the tv or anything.) Though I did have an amusing moment. My cat tried to jump in my lap, missed, and clawed into my leg. My computer thought I had called it a 'stupid little bench'.

      The technology is more or less there, now the problem is context. How does the computer know if the word 'may' means may or May? How does the computer understand phrases like "Kick your butt"?

      I have a solution to this problem. Though it's by no means easy to incorporate. A neural network has been built a few times before. I saw an experiment once where a robot arm with an electronic eye was tied to a neural net. They brought a child up to it and played with blocks. Within minutes, the child had taught the robot a game. She'd take a block and then wait. The robot would take a block and then wait. Then she'd take another one. The the robot would. And so on. The robot was not programmed to do this. The kid just taught the robot a very simple game.

      Meanwhile, there are humanoid robots in development. They can walk. Cool, eh? Well imagine tying this guy into a neural net. It'd be strange at first, but over time, it would learn. It would learn english. It would even pick up slang.

      Personally, I think this is the path to getting good voice recognition out of a computer. We need for one to live with us like we do. I don't think poking in a bunch of commands and if/then statements are going to do it.
  • "Computer! What's the situation down on the planet?"

    I thought in the ST world computers cannot handle complex nuiances of the english language like contractions.
    • Data "never" used contractions (although in earlier episodes they either had not established this, or forgot a few times), but I don't believe the computer (or Data) had problems understanding contractions. Also, Lore (Data's evil brother, with emotions) used contractions, and this was a point in one of the Lore episodes (I believe the original, Datalore) when Lore turned Data off and was posing as him.
      • Data "never" used contractions (although in earlier episodes they either had not established this, or forgot a few times), but I don't believe the computer (or Data) had problems understanding contractions. Also, Lore (Data's evil brother, with emotions) used contractions, and this was a point in one of the Lore episodes (I believe the original, Datalore) when Lore turned Data off and was posing as him.

        Considering Data wrote new subroutines for himself fairly frequently I never understood why couldn't co

  • I thought Star Trek for Google was already here... Isn't one of the languages listed Klingon?

    (BTW, yes I checked)
  • Cool but (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Timesprout (579035) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:07PM (#7117011)
    As humans a lot of our brainpower is geared towards interpreting visual input. Its will always be a lot faster for me to look at the pages of hits returned and determine what is of interest to me than it will be to listen to a computer voice and try to figure it out. Speaking to the computer is OK but in many situations I will want visual, not aural feedback
    • to the computer is OK but in many situations I will want visual, not aural feedback

      The one place where I want a full voice interface is when I'm doing something else and my interaction with the computer is secondary. Like driving a car, entertaining guests ("Computer, what's at the movie theater tonight?"), that sort of thing.

      And maybe that's Google's point. Stop making the computer the primary focus of every computer interaction. An essential part of ubiquitous computing is that it enables more modes
    • Nonlinear Analysis (Score:2, Insightful)

      by j0hnfr0g (652153)
      Visual is quicker than audio, and one of the reasons is that it is nonlinear (not in the mathematical sense, but the dimensional sense).

      Visually you can look at a screen of replies and skip to the next "line" instantly if the current line is not what you want. Difficult for audio.

      Also, you can look at the screen as a whole and can often see the answer you desire because it essentially "jumps out at you" from visual filtering. Listening to all the audio output as a whole will most likely give you not
  • by caffeineboy (44704) <skidmore.22@nOsPaM.osu.edu> on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:07PM (#7117019)
    You will ask "Computer! What's the situation down on the planet?" and you get 100 sites, all linked to each other, that have this phrase crammed into a mass of links and search-engine-bait, all trying to sell you cable de-scramblers and viagra.

    Ever notice the 'rot' that is occuring on google lately? For example, a search on "mercedes 300D transmission" used to bring up the article on mbz.org [mbz.org] about adjusting the vacuum shift in this car. Now this link, the most useful one, is all the way on the third or fourth page, buried in OEM parts retaillers that you know damn well are ranked high thanks to "ranking services".

    I hope they can figure out how to weed this kind of stuff out...
  • by Yoda2 (522522) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:07PM (#7117020)
    Here are several recent papers [cornell.edu] by people working to make computers start 'understanding' language.

    Disclaimer: I did write one of the papers.

  • Sol currently has no president. If you would like to lay claim to this solar system, click here [verisign.com].
  • by G27 Radio (78394)
    The NLP required for this is far off, but it sure will be cool when we get there.

    Neuro-Linguistic Programming?
    • Re:NLP? (Score:5, Informative)

      by FreeLinux (555387) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:17PM (#7117152)
      Natural Language Processing or voice recognition.

      I guess that there are still those amongst us that insist on trying to supplement their inadequacies by babbling in acronyms.

      I've always said that if you think it's cool or leet to speak using acronyms, you should go all out and speak in hieroglyphics.
      • Re:NLP? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by merlin_jim (302773)
        Natural Language Processing or voice recognition

        Actually the two are distinct but related concepts...

        Natural Language Processing is the science of how to take a grammatical statement and parse it. Breaking it down into nouns and verbs and subjects and objects and whatever, and then representing the symantic links that describe how these concepts modify each other in a grammatical context.

        Voice recognition is the science of taking spoken language and transcribing it to a context-specific computer repres
        • Re:NLP? (Score:3, Funny)

          by Lord_Dweomer (648696)
          Heh, I always thought NLP stood for Neuro Linguistic Programming....and if you've ever been on some of those Speed Seduction websites (not that I have...really!) I'm sure your familiar with the term.

    • by ornil (33732)
      Natural Language Processing
  • Here's a quote from the article:
    There's a lot for us to do, and only 300 years to do it in!
    That's just the right kind of attitude and this is why Google continues to be so popular among geeks.
  • The obvious problem with aural feedback is privacy, but beyond that it would get rather combersome to have to listen to everything rather than just skim the text.

    Maybe we could hook the feedback up to those double speed DVD players to speed up the process.
  • Beaming up? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nilenico (688350)
    ...so this'll be available shortly after the transporter?

    It's a Nice Thing, but does anyone have any insight into exactly how far off into the future we are looking?

    - speech recognition systems leave quite a lot to be desired
    - is there *anything* out there that's able to put stuff into context {so to speak}
    - if it's far enough off, the whole multiple-language thing will take care of itself - the number of languages is dwindling each year :-)

    will be nice to have, though.

    Oh - wait. Probably won't be in my
  • by CGP314 (672613) <CGP@NosPAm.ColinGregoryPalmer.net> on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:12PM (#7117083) Homepage
    The actual [SCO] lawsuit is very narrow in its claims; we're not nervous about it at all. It's prompted lots of discussion, which has been very interesting to watch.

    Somebody reads slashdot :)
  • "Computer, what are you doing? [theregister.co.uk]. You weren't designed for that!"

    More like HAL than Star Trek, IMNSHO.

  • Captain Kirk - "What's the full about goatse.cx? Computer - "General Protection Fault"
  • I consider Google more like Emmy from Desk Set [imdb.com] as a repository of information.

    Of course, instead of overloading its buffer with
    Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight [numachi.com], just consider a plethora of pop-up ads.
  • Hmmm. Not exactly.

    I can definitely see google searching by speech, but results will almost certainly come back via a visual display. This is part of that classic paradox of communication: We read faster than we hear, but we speak faster than we write. Particularly with google, which has easily scannable chunks of content that hyperlink you to what you're looking for, speech reply would be a horribly inefficient channel to introduce except for the most straightforward questions.

    I do expect voice contro
  • I'd imagine it'd work more like Star Wars than Star Trek. Everything is perfect on Star Trek. There will be script kiddies using The Force to hack it.

    I just felt one million beowulf cluster jokes failing all at once.

    Dude, someone haxxored my Sorlac Pit.

    Your Google Death Star is 0wn3d.

    In the future, Soviet Russia will blah blah blah.
  • that I now have to pay to read me papers.

    Not.

    I can see it now:

    "Now reading 1 of 3625 context relevant sites."

    We didn't start writing things down because of a lack of people to read them aloud. At the time we started doing that there where people whose job it was to recite things from memory. Bible's, Vedas, whatever.

    No, we started writing things down because it was a superiour way to access most information. It remains so. Ask any blind person trying to do research on the internet (yes, I work with one
  • by JessLeah (625838) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:21PM (#7117206)
    Then again, I would also very much like to see flying cars, true AI, useful nanotechnology, and practical fusion reactors.

    All of which, of course, are things that we've been promised for years/decades are "right around the corner", yet always fail to materialize.

    They were saying we'd all be in flying cars now in the 1960s... where's my aero-Ford?
  • This will never happen. You know why? Because its hard to justify to the boss/wife why you were yelling "FREE LESBIAN SEX MOVIES" at the computer.
  • by switcha (551514) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:23PM (#7117222)
    OK, sounds good, but when I'm at work and shout "What's a guy gotta do to get some f'in peace and quiet around here?!", I'm not really looking for an answer.

    That, and I don't really want my coworkers hearing "Computer, get me some boobies!" from my office.

  • Auditory is one of the most inefficient ways to transmit information. Unless you're in a situation where you need to talk to the computer, such as driving and asking "how do I find the nearest store that sells dongles?" then text/video is much better. Another huge problem is that you can't fast forward or skim-listen to audio like you can with text or to a lesser degree video.

    Non-computer people love to throw around the star-trek computer interface as the future, but the actual utility of it is questionab
  • I can imagine nerdy teens in front of their PC: "Computer, locate a hot busty blond with ass dimples. Transport her image to holodeck #3"
  • news that end with question marks?
  • You can't perform speech processing with a computer until we have a computer that is built like a neural network which understands speech as we do. As a side effect such a computer wouldn't have to perform serialized "searches"; once you asked it a question it would already know the answer.

    The future of searching is: Computers will NOT search as they do today. They will be based on the model of the human brain and how it addresses "memory", by activating nodes in a massive neural network.
  • it snot far off..

    several places including IBM research labs have working versions of this technology..

  • I don't want a voice operated computer. What I want is something like the Matrix where I can not only download info right into my brain (or at least learn it at 1000x speed), but interact with the computer so that I can use the computer as a direct extention of my brain. When I think "Hmm, the square root of three is...", the computer will instantly let my head think "Ahh, it is ~1.7320508". Or if I need to remember something, I will remember it at exactly the right time. The computer will truely be a t
  • It will try to sell you stuff whenever you try to replicate dinner...
  • Googleliza (Score:5, Funny)

    by hoggoth (414195) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:41PM (#7117423) Journal
    > "Computer! What's the situation down on the planet?"

    "How does it make you feel to ask what's the situation down on the planet?"

  • by tliet (167733) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:45PM (#7117456)
    ...thought of in the 80s when they created the Knowledge Navigator [pcai.com] clip. Scully's dream was to eventually create a computer that would act as an assistent that you could also ask questions. It would come back later when it found answers. Of course, the whole concept was a pipedream, but still, the Newton's 'Assist' button was one of the first steps towards that goal.

    Too bad Jobs had to kill the Newton when he got back at Apple to finally do away with everything Scully.

    • "Too bad Jobs had to kill the Newton when he got back at Apple to finally do away with everything Scully."

      You actually think Jobs did that just because it was a Scully project? Jobs did what he had to do to get the company back into the black. He had two major areas to focus on: 1. getting the Mac into the public again (with the iMac); and 2. cramming NeXT's operating system expertise crammed into the heart-and-soul of every Mac. The Newton had already gave way to the Palm line; did you want Jobs to fi
  • by GPS Pilot (3683) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:55PM (#7117590)
    Google ought to do complex Boolean queries like

    (potato or potatoe) and ((fried or mashed) and gravy)

    It's my only peeve about that wonderful search engine.
  • by El (94934) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @04:56PM (#7117605)
    Where every team has to have one employee whose sole job is to talk to the computer!
  • by ihatesco (682485) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @05:02PM (#7117678)
    Google still can't come up with the whole situation on the planet, but it can do calculations like adding 2 + 2 [google.com], dividing 17350 by 6 [google.com], or convert 30 feets in metres [google.com].

    Hell it even tells you the life, universe and everything! [google.com]. + + + + Only thing I noticed, google images [slashdot.org] doesn't cache the goatseman's pic... :(

  • CYC (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sanity (1431) * on Thursday October 02, 2003 @05:26PM (#7117915) Homepage Journal
    This sounds like the CYC Project [cyc.com]. For over a decade they have been trying to collect all human knowledge and explain it to a computer using a logical language they developed. They claim that it has applications in search, among many other things, and a natural language translator is part of the system they are developing. They have even released part of CYC as Open Source [opencyc.org]!

    I haven't seen any "WOW!" things come out of the project yet, but you have to admire their "just do it" approach to AI.

  • by Kris_J (10111) on Thursday October 02, 2003 @08:03PM (#7119437) Journal
    Okay, I'll bite. What does "NLP" stand for. No doubt I've heard the phrase, just never seen the TLA.

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