For some, Google Search has become something of a personal assistant. As Google’s voice recognition algorithms have improved, the feature’s ability to fetch information and obey commands on the fly has become more and more useful. Today, Google made some changes to the way Search processes information, and this has made it quite a bit smarter.
Google is now able to sort information categorically and then synthesize this information to come up with a coherent answer. Previously, using voice search for something like “Who was president when Carl Sagan was born” would only lead to a list of search results from the keywords. Now, however, Google claims they’ve been able to make Search better able to understand intent, which makes it able to deliver answers like “Franklin D. Roosevelt.”
In the Official Google Search Blog, Product Manager Satyajeet Salgar compares the app’s development to a child learning how to speak. Initially, Google Search was only able to perform basic tasks based on its limited understanding of human communication. As algorithms got more advanced, Search began to get better at delivering users the information they were actually looking for, not just a pile of similar-sounding information. As Salgar puts it, Search began being able to realize that if you were looking for the ingredients to a screwdriver, it understood you meant the drink, not the tool.
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These new changes include the ability to organize databases into ranking lists. Google now recognizes superlatives like ‘largest’ or ‘oldest.’ This lets it sort through information in an efficient way so that it provides you with immediate, vocalized answers even when asking complex questions that involve combining time, people, and places. Some examples include:
- “What are some of Seth Gabel’s father-in-law’s movies?”
- “What was the U.S. population when Bernie Sanders was born?”
- “Who was the U.S. President when the Angels won the World Series?”
The changes are currently being implemented on Google’s servers and should be available to anyone using Search without an app update. However, my personal experimentation with the feature has been a little hit and miss. “What was the weather like in Toledo on the day Barack Obama was sworn into office” goes right over Google’s head, for instance. (Although granted, that was a pretty hard curveball to throw at it).
Give it a shot and tell us what your experience is like with it. What’s the most complex question you can get Google to field?