Peter Norvig, Google’s director of research, was in Ireland last week to give a lecture at the University of Cork and was interviewed by John Kennedy of SiliconRepublic.com
Norvig is the man behind the Google Search and the core web search algorithms in the world’s biggest Internet company. He also leads the team that created Google Translate.
He joined Google in 2002.
“When I started we created a new index of the web every month," he told Kennedy." And I thought that was a lot compared to a library card product which we had been thinking of ourselves as being like. They didn’t update and we thought we were pretty good.
“And then we said people started to search for news on Google and we said now we’re going to have to update every day and hour and now with tweets it’s every minute. We’re driven by the fact that we’ve got to have more users, more documents and more speed.”
By next year Kennedy notes 50 per cent of all traffic on the Internet will be video and the next 1bn users of the web will be via mobile.
Norvig says Google is ready “We’ll do more with indexing the actual content of the video. We started out just searching the keywords of the video and now we’ve started doing speech recognition of the spoken word in the videos and over time we’ll start pulling out objects –this has a car in it that’s in a car chase. That’ll be a challenge.
“We’ve already got the Maps platform and geographic data will fit right in and I think you’re right there will be a lot more available.”
Talking to computers will be a big step forward Norvig thinks "Yeah, you’ll see more of that. I don’t know if English will be the right language to talk to our computers, now we use keywords and there is some advantage to that over regular English and there is some advantage to that, rather than just talking sentences.
“Sometimes keywords and sometimes more complex commands. We’re still at the point where we get impressive results but the searcher is doing most of the work; you have to figure out what you’re looking for, which of the results you’re looking at and if you have to integrate the results, you’ll have to do that all on your own.
“I think there are a few places we’re starting to go beyond that. For example the news results and these live stories, trying to synthesize more of the results in to one place. Where you do a search and instead of one result here’s 10 unrelated links. Rather we’ll say how do they go together and we’ll fit them all together and then maybe you’ll have a report where you’re interested in part of a story and we’ll show that on a map, or give it a timeline and allow interaction back and forth where the computers are helping you make sense of it and not just showing you possibilities that you have to make sense of.”
“Thinking about the modes of interaction – speech recognition is important, computer vision is important and then we also think about how to pay for it all and we’ve done very well on small text ads associated with search but they won’t be the only type of ad we’re going to have. We’ll have richer kinds of interactions and more options and when you’re out in physical world there’s more opportunities to interact and show you things in real-time – eat in this restaurant, that product you were looking at the other day.
”You have a phone with a compass in it and there’s StreetView that you can orient to the real world and it’s not a big step from there to put advertising on it.”
Norvig was asked what technologies and interfaces the mobile devices of the future will have.
“That’s something we’re always thinking about; what’s the user interface going to be like, what’s the user experience going to be like on mobile, how is it going to fit on the small screen, do we need another input method, how is it going to hook up with speech recognition – these are all questions we’re thinking about.”
Asked about the future of advertising on the web Norvig says:
“We’ll have to be more engaging. Media doesn’t have the same monopoly. When watching TV in the past you had to watch them, now you have the freedom to flip over ads. When reading a newspaper you were able to flip over the page. Now you have the freedom to consume your information in any way you want.
“Advertisers will have to be more engaging, even if they have an offer you are looking for, even if content is amusing or TV shows, watch the ads for that or incorporate ads into programs.”
“A lot of different models will be tried. I’m surprised there hasn’t been a lot more done with subscription services. It seems phone provider and TV provider are pretty good at attracting large amounts of money per month from you so people have no problem paying per month for phone service, but €1 for some content on the web, oh know I could never do that. People will spend an hour trying to figure out how to get it for free. Priorities are wrong but that’s the way it is.
“Murdoch had a very interesting editorial a couple of weeks ago where he said the newspaper industry is going to have to innovate a lot more and figure out ways to solve their own problem
He says the idea that niche brands and local newspapers for example could have a great future.
“There is a lot of opportunity for local. You probably won’t need to own several hundred newspapers to have an international brand. If they concentrated more on the local we’d all be better off.”