Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Pining for smarter search technology

People talk a lot about wanting a version of the CTRL+Z keyboard shortcut in the non-digital world: we want some easy way to undo our just-committed snafu. Avid CTRL+Z users sometimes find that after they've made a real-life mistake, their fingers instinctually make the CTRL+Z motions.

That hasn't happened to me yet. But I have been catching myself wanting to perform Google searches on books and magazines. Last night, as I was groggily reading in bed, my eyes twice darted to the upper right corner of the page, trying in vain to find the Google search box.

It's those kind of moments where I feel impatient for next-generation search technology to become available now. Like a voice-activated search service that is always available. I want that. And I don't want to have to state my search requests too loudly, either. (The walls in my apartment building are remarkably non-soundproof.)

Google appears to be working on voice-activated search, and I'm looking forward to learning what they come up with. Other interesting search technology is under development. Microsoft, Riya, and others are working on a way to conduct searches that match images with submitted images, rather than text.

Also, I remember hearing something on NPR a few months ago -- a futurist fellow conjecturing about where search technology is headed. Maybe smell-based searches (in addition to sound and images) are in our future, for instance. As I recall, he thought search technology will become a standalone field of study: undergraduate students will be able to major in Search.

I can't seem to find it, however. I remember it, so it must be out there archived somewhere, right? I've been searching for it in Google and within the NPR site, and no luck. The irony is delicious.


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