The Buzz is “Intelligent Search”

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The Term

“Intelligent search” is the buzz term that’s been at many fingertips and lips lately, connecting it to “artificial intelligence.” Does this conjure images of SkyNet and androids replacing humans? Hollywood seems to have us believing that “A.I.” means robots, but A.I. starts at the software and usability level. Intelligence search, the first major move toward technology that “thinks” for itself, is the latest trend in search engine processing, and the wave for tomorrow’s Web. 3.0 and 4.0.


The Smarts

The plethora of search engines available are getting smarter and on a quest to improve their results/relevancy to their audiences. Bing, for example, is the first “decision” engine that pairs up search results, as per normal, but in certain categories like travel is also adding in pricing and relevant options beyond 10 search results with text and a green URL.

Remember how cool it was when you made typos in your search request and Google seemed to know what you meant, automatically fixing your error or asking “did you mean…?” as if reading your mind? It’s getting better, folks.

Google is working on the “caffeine update” where the engine will be able to crawl the web quicker in order to bring us “real time” results similar to Facebook and Twitter’s fast-track searches. Yahoo! is heavily invested in “search re-targeting” – that is, re-targeting display ads based on the way folks “search” when people are not on the search site but instead on their network or partners’ networks.

The biggest revolution of all is in Web 3.0 and Web 4.0 – often called the “semantic web.” Here, the engines will know that when you type in “jaguar,” for example, you most likely meant the car and not the animal (based on your previous search and browsing histories). This is where it’s all heading – smarter results and better targeted advertising is the game where everyone wins on the web.

The Relevance

Searching online is quickly becoming relevant and important in people’s lives. Within seconds, information can be obtained on any subject or issue in the Universe, from home, on the go (mobile device, wifi), and at the office – the latest news, the history of an idea or a company, the history of a nation, that day’s travel deals, the closest car rental place. The “search,” some contend, has become breathing air for today’s Net-savvy and Net-reliant individual.

Consider Google’s breakthroughs in Web document analysis, supercomputing and Internet advertising, and one might think this is as good as it gets. But some entrepreneurs in artificial intelligence say that Google is not the end of history; indeed, its techniques are a baseline of where we’re headed next.

The day is soon when people will be able to search for the plot of a novel, or list all the politicians who said something negative about the environment in the last five years, or find out where to buy an umbrella just spotted on the street. Techniques in AI such as natural language, object recognition and statistical machine learning will begin to stoke the imagination of Web searchers once again.

Take a look at Facesearch, an engine that crawls for people images associated with a name. The next step is to feed the engine a person’s headshot or family photo, and the intelligent engine will find other images of the search subject, or people who look similar. Such a tool will be useful for journalists, law enforcement, and the curious. Picasa and iPhoto have already begun to explore such options.

Beyond the Key Word

For a search engine, the Web is nothing more than a body of words on billions of pages, with the hyperlinks that connect these words. One of Google’s greatest breakthroughs was to link those words efficiently, measuring relevance by the appearance of words on a page, and the number of hyperlinks pointing to that page, or its popularity.

Yesterday’s tech showed that search engines do not “understand” words, they are simply programmed to match keywords that are more significant on a page, closer together or linked more often from other pages. When someone types in “woolly mammoth,” they the search engine on a wild goose chase for those words, not the extinct animal and its place in history; it would ne necessary to type “origins of Wooly Mammoth.” Not so with A.I. – based on the user’s profile (a student, a researcher) the engine will look beyond the parameters of the key words to match hits with the user’s known interests.

From a recent article at CNET News:

Barney Pell, founder of a yet-to-be-launched AI search engine, calls the restrictive language of search engines “keywordese.”

“Search engines try to train us to become good keyword searchers. We dumb down our intelligence so it will be natural for the computer,” said Pell, whose company, Powerset, is based in Palo Alto, Calif.

“The big shift that will happen in society is that instead of moving human expressions and interactions into what’s easy for the computer, we’ll move computers’ abilities to handle expressions that are natural for the human,” he said.

The Intelligent Yahoo!

Now comes Yahoo’s Search Pad, in a race to compete with Google, Bing, and others. Search Pad uses behind-the-scenes intelligence to figure out if a person is doing detailed research on a topic, such as learning about a health condition or planning a vacation, and lets the user store the research in a little notepad-type box right in the search field.

Inside the box, one can then move the stored Web links around, delete them, paste text underneath or add notes. When the research is complete, a user can print out the notes or e-mail them.

The tool’s goal is ultimately to boost ad revenue.

The Criteria

Intelligent Search is based on having a lot of data regarding the user and having it in a way that can be portable with the user’s browser experience. Personalization of the web will earn the trust of users allowing our information to be ported to various search tools. Symbiotic relationships are built on trust. This is a concept we have been integrating into Planet Illogica — a place people can trust the site and its tools and usage.

These criteria will hold true for any site that provides intelligent search options.

[image from www.aiai.ed.ac.uk]

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