Constructing the Conversational Computer: A Discussion with Google Search’s Amit Singhal

2030 logoDuring Amit Singhal’s 13 years at Google, the company has been evolving the iconic search bar into a voice-controlled search engine that allows for a more natural, conversational search – à la Star Trek’s LCARS computer.

They aren’t there yet.

If you ask Google – using voice – who Bill Clinton is, and then ask who his (using the pronoun instead of his name) daughter is – Google can tell you. You can even follow that up by asking what her job is, and again, Google understands.

If however, you follow up your question about Bill Clinton with, “Who was the next president?” Google is stumped. Its ability to hold context means that it can only hold a conversation as long as you stick within some narrow parameters. Clearly search has not reached Her status – as envisioned by Spike Jonze. Most people are not in danger of mistaking Google for a love interest. Still, the system’s current competence is quite a feat considering it happens to be ‘conversing’ and interfacing with millions of people at once.

Amit Singhal, however, believes that the current situation is just a stepping-stone, and that natural, ‘frictionless’ conversation with a computer is an attainable goal.

We interviewed Amit Singhal at Google HQ in 2013. He’s a personable guy with a positive outlook on the future, as well as a staunch belief that information science & search can allow humanity to be, essentially, more human.

During our conversation Amit said that the challenge is finding the missing “intelligent connections” that humans can make and computers can’t – the missing links between today’s search and a true conversational machine. Amit and his team are working on algorithms to allow computers to build those connections.

These videos, and others in the Galactic Public Archives are compiled from our conversations with inventors, scientists, visionaries and thinkers who have compelling visions of the future, in conjunction with 2030, an upcoming film about the future.

 

Discover more GPA videos at Vimeo.com/GalacticPublicArchives.

 

About the Author:

Johnny-BostonJohnny Boston is a filmmaker and creative director who grew up in Europe and is now living on the East Coast. Johnny is currently working on film inspired by his friend, futurist FM-2030.

 

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