Google this week reiterated its interest in being able to give users search results before they even know they want them.
At the LeWeb '10 conference in Paris on Wednesday, Marissa Mayer, vice president of location services at Google, said the company is working on giving users results without the search.
"The idea is to push information to people," said Mayer, during an on-stage interview. "It's location in context. Inside the browser and a toolbar, we can look at where people have been going on the Web -- then we deliver it. But it's a big UI challenge."
Mayer added that on a PC, the search results might pop up in a panel on the browser, complementing the user's own Web browsing. On a mobile phone, Google would provide information based on a user's location.
"We can figure out where the next most useful information is," she said. "In a restaurant, maybe it's a menu. Or maybe it's a social menu. It's about explicit and implicit location."
Mayer's explanations closely mirror comments that Google CEO Eric Schmidt made earlier this fall.
In a keynote address at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco in September, Schmidt said that at some point in the future, Google's search technology will be autonomous. He explained that he envisions the technology being able to offer users search results even before they've looked for them.
While both Google and its main search rival, Microsoft's Bing, have made significant advances in the past year -- Google's Goggles and real-time search , for example -- autonomous search would be a major shift.
Autonomous search would take users' past experiences and their likes and dislikes and use them, along with geolocation information, to give them information about things that might interest them wherever they might be.
"While it sounds like science fiction to suggest that technology can help search for things you don't even yet know you need, the opportunities to improve human discovery are very real in the future," Forrester Research analyst Augie Ray said in a previous interview. "Combining a person's context -- where they are, who they're with -- with their past opinions and actions, and the opinions and actions of others, can create tremendous value for people."
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.