In a recent interview with Mashable, Google SVP Amit Singai discussed the direction they are trying to take their search capability. Google wants to transform words that appear on a page into entities that mean something and have related attributes. It’s what the human brain does naturally, but for computers, it’s known as Artificial Intelligence (AI). Singhal admits that it is his dream to build the fictional Star Trek computer (for all your nerds out there, it’s known as LCARS, or Library Computer Access/Retrieval System-sounds like Google, doesn’t it?) in that you could ask it virtually any question and get an intelligent answer. An exciting master plan, to be sure. However, I question whether Google’s AI search engine would serve humankind in a benign manner like the Star Trek computer, or use its vast knowledge and AI chops more perniciously, like HAL 9000, the onboard computer in Kubrick’s classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Google isn’t quite there yet. Right now, if you query “the 10 deepest lakes in the U.S,” it will give you a very good result based on the keywords in the phrase and sites with significant authority on those words and even word groupings, but their search engine doesn’t actually understand the question. As Singh noted, “We cross our fingers and hope someone on the web has written about these things or topics.”¹
Google wants to takes search beyond mere words and into the world of entities, attributes and the relationship between those entities. In this way, Google’s future search engine will not only understand your lake question but know a lake is a body of water and tell you the depth, surface areas, temperatures and even salinities for each lake.¹
Google is “building a huge, in-house understanding of what an entity is and a repository of what entities are in the world and what should you know about those entities,” said Singhal. This massive knowledge graph of interconnected entities and their attributes marks a fundamental transition from a word-based index to a system that will radically increase the power and complexity of search. Singhal explained that the word index is essentially like the index you find at the back of a book: “A knowledge base is huge compared to the word index and far more refined or advanced.”¹ With over 100 million entities cataloged thus far, Google is well on its way.
Further evidence that Google is going all in on AI search lies in their sponsorship of the AI Challenge. As explained on the competition’s website, the AI Challenge “is all about creating artificial intelligence, whether you are a beginning programmer or an expert. Using one of the easy-to-use starter kits, you will create a computer program (in any language) that controls a colony of ants which fight against other colonies for domination.” The AI Challenge helps teach a new generation of programmers how to think creatively and innovate their code as they learn. It is also a wise investment that will likely pay dividends to Google in the years ahead.²
For all of its possibilities, Google’s knowledge graph raises some serious questions. If the stated purpose of the knowledge graph is for Google’s search engine to better understand what an entityis and what should be known about it on a deeper, conceptual “human” level, would a business considered an entity? If so, how exactly will their intelligent search engine catalog information about a business?
Google will presumably use online data to create an entity, forming an “understanding” of your company, much like we humans do when meeting someone. What happens if Google doesn’t like you? Is your website/online profile then sent to the back of the SERP bus?
With deeper knowledge comes a greater capacity for judgment, both good and bad. How will Google legislate how an infinitely more complex intellectual “organism” forms judgments?
If Google’s search engine was an isolated robot, the answer to this question might be more intriguing than concerning. But as a businessperson who is increasingly dependent upon Google’s favorable judgment for my livelihood, the prospect of an omniscient search engine leaves me a bit unnerved.
In 2001, A Space Odessey, HAL was supposed to be the perfect computer, the ultimate servant to humankind. Ironically, HAL ended up being the one in control, at one point warning his human keepers, “This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.”³
Sci-Fi aside, I leave you with a very real-world example of the unforeseen consequences of technology to draw reference from:
“The discovery of nuclear reactions need not bring about the destruction of mankind any more than the discovery of matches.” – Albert Einstein, 1930
”I made one great mistake in my life, when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atoms bombs be made.”-Albert Einstein, 1954
¹ Mashable, “Google Knowledge Graph Could Change Search Forever”
² Singularity Hub, “Google’s AI Challenge: Who Can Build the Smartest Ant Colony”
³ Roger Ebert, “2001: A Space Odyssey”