Google Search Is Getting A Major Upgrade

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Rather than wait for your queries, Google's latest tool aims to answer your questions before you even ask. It's just one of a raft of new features the the company is introducing to mark 20 years of Search.

Google Discover will be built into the google.com home page on mobile devices, as well as the Google app, diving into the topics which interest you most to reveal new and relevant content. To break filter bubbles and avoid accusations of bias, Google Discover is based on the same technology as Google News' Full Coverage, ensuring it offers a variety of perspectives.

Across the board Google has reduced the impact of personalisation in customising search results, which has helped address the issue of filter bubbles, says the head of Google's search ranking team Pandu Nayak.

Discover replaces Feed in the Google app, and will appear at google.com on mobile devices. (Photo: Supplied)

Google's testing has found that personalisation generally doesn't help improve the quality of search results unless the query is rather ambiguous. The one exception is the user's current location, which has a strong influence on results, although Nayak tells Fairfax Media this is "contextualisation" rather than personalisation.

"The kind of biases people are concerned about, things like political bias or gender bias, we have nothing in our system that knows about those characteristics," he says.

"There is no way that we can introduce an explicit bias into the system to push the results in one way or the other."

Google Discover is Google's third attempt at offering pre-emptive information, previously going under the names Feed and Now. Australians will need to wait for it to arrive locally, with Discover initially launching for English and Spanish speakers in the US.

The announcement comes as Google marks 20 years since the birth of its search engine, which initially contained fewer than 20 million URLs in a static index which was only updated once per month.

Google Turns '20'. But Should Anyone Be Celebrating?

Back in September 1998, I was working at a small company in Melbourne and one of my colleagues, who went on to work for Netscape, showed me a new search engine. Google was unlike the other search engines of the time. It was fast, spartan and wasn't trying to be all things to all people. Twenty years later, Google is synonymous with search, with the company name entering the vernacular as a verb.

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Today Google indexes new online content within seconds, covering hundreds of billions of documents including a range of multimedia. Search results are honed using machine learning, while artificial intelligence is set to underpin the next leap in language comprehension.

Improved comprehension will allow Search to become more of a contextually-aware two-way conversation, Nayak says.

"In a sense you already have the beginnings of two-way interaction, most obvious in the case of Google Assistant where you can have what I think of as relatively simple conversations," he says.

"I don't know what the actual interfaces will look like, but imagine a future where that kind of interaction is even more natural than it is today — more like an actual conversation — but with the richness that Search provides today."

Along with making it easier to search the web, Google is also making it easier to search your history with Activity Cards.

Activity Cards help you pick up from where you left off when previously researching a subject, automatically displaying prior queries on a topic to help you retrace your steps. Google will suggest content based on your previous searches, with the option to save results as part of the Collections feature built into Google+.

Google is also dynamically organising some searches under subtopics, as well as adding a new Topic Layer to the Knowledge Graph. Meanwhile visual search is also improving, with video previews coming to search results and Google Image Search incorporating Lens to help identify the contents of an image using machine vision.

"When there's new kinds of information out there, we will bring that into search, just as we went beyond searching the text of pages to look at images and video," Nayak says.

"Technology around artificial intelligence and machine learning will be transformative as we move forward."


This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.


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