Generally, I like to stay pretty bleeding edge with what's posted. So, I was pretty excited when I saw that Technology Review managed to pick the brain of Peter Norvig, Google's director of research.
Norvig has a background that would make most techies green with envy. He's an expert in programming languages and artificial intelligence. In fact, he wrote "Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach," which Technology Review reports is oft-quoted in AI circles. He also taught at the University of California at Berkeley and was the head of computational sciences at NASA.
Surely, I thought, Norvig would have something really cutting edge and overwhelming he's working on.
If he does, he didn't share it. I admit it: I was a bit disappointed, particularly when he starts off the Q&A by discussing his efforts to improve search and do a better job of matching ads to the search results. Not to downplay the importance of online advertisements, but it's not exactly much of a surprise project, is it?
Still, I enjoyed reading what Google is working on, the psychology of search, and learning more about what's being done to develop video search, voice search for mobile users and just generally learn what's being done to make search technology more precise.
It's interesting to get a glimpse of how Google views search -- something that surprised me is Norvig's focus on how deeply users want to participate in the search process. For instance, it seems that a search engine's ability to answer a whole question probably isn't that important. That's because most of the time, we searchers don't want to go to the trouble of typing in a whole question.
One thing that Norvig didn't mention -- and Technology Review didn't ask about -- is Google's experimental, but non-branded, search site, searchmash, which made press headlines last fall as an "experiment" but is still up and running as of today.
However, he did talk about a Google Labs project called GOOG-411, a free service that lets you search for local businesses over the phone. Some of you might wonder, "Hasn't the phone company already done that?"
And you'd be right. But Google's twist is to do it without having any human backup -- and to connect you directly to the business without an additional charge -- unlike the phone company.
This isn't the first time Google's stepped on the phone company's toes. I'd like to root for the phone company here, because I tend to get a bit sentimental about companies I grew up with, BUT, it irritates me to no end that the phone company charges me -- in addition to my other monthly services and miscellaneous fees -- when I call their directory and again if I use it to connect directly to the business. So, you can bet I'll be giving GOOG-411 a try.