Google Search can now answer much more complex questions

by: John DyeNovember 16, 2015


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.

Google Now best news apps for androidSee also: Google Now on Tap quick look8

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?

  • Marty

    5 years ago I could query Google search the most obscure thing and it would bring up relevant results. It was amazing and seemed like a sci-fi show come-to-life. I remember a Stargate SG1 episode where the inhabitants of the world the team arrived on were wearing cranial implants that let them access a mainframe computer system giving them immediate access to any and all knowledge. 5 years ago Google Search was almost exactly like that. It amazed me how easily I had access to *any* information no matter how vague or obscure.

    These days GS only brings up the more popular queries…like finding the name of a song through some of its lyrics. GS isn’t any better than Bing or Yahoo at relevant results. It’s as if Google caved in and sold out.

    • Karl Dagenais

      I think your expectations have changed. Google amazes me everyday, and bing is a deception every 6 months when I check it out.

      • Marty

        Not at all. The only thing that has changed is what Google chooses to index in the WWW.

        Here’s an example of an obscure query that 5 years ago would have provided satisfying results but these days, nothing useful: Star Brite cookware from the 50s/60s. We have in our family heritage Star Brite pots and pans that have been with us since the at least the 60s. I wanted to find out information about their origin and so forth but couldn’t bring up anything useful. 5 years ago a query as vague or even vaguer in Google search would have brought up on the top of the first page any and all information relating to the company and its history.

        • Hans Pedersen

          I kind of agree. It seems like Google search is trying to be a bit too clever these days, by almost ignoring the wording you’re using and instead trying to search for autocorrected, popular search sentences instead.

  • Tony T.

    Still ain’t working for me. Oh well… Maybe I’ll test it later on in the week

  • josuearisty

    Not working in spanish but I can see isnt even working in english.

  • John Matthews

    I googled “What was the UK Population when Queen Elizabeth was born” and I only got the usually google searches (nothing about the UK Pop. when she was born). I modeled it after the Bernie Sanders example