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In Schmidt's vision, Google will search before you even ask

Autonomous search could come in handy but is certain to raise privacy concerns

September 30, 2010 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - In the not-so-distant future, you'll be walking down the street and your phone will beep and offer you a few lunch suggestions just around the corner, or it may tell you that the museum across the street is having an exhibit of that artist you once Googled.

That's Google CEO Eric Schmidt's vision of the future.

In a keynote address at Tuesday's TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, Schmidt said that at some point in the future, Google's search technology will be autonomous, meaning that it will offer you search results even before you've looked for them.

"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," said Augie Ray, an analyst at Forrester Research. "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."

While both Google and its main search rival, Microsoft Bing, have been making significant advances in the past year -- Google Goggles real-time search, for example -- autonomous search would be a major shift. It would make typing in queries and getting lists of result options rather archaic if you could get information before you even realized you wanted it.

Autonomous search would take your past experiences, likes and dislikes and use them, along with geolocation information, to give you information about things that might interest you wherever you might be.

"Imagine you're someone who has positively rated Mexican restaurants in the past," Ray said. "As you drive through town around lunchtime, your device can alert you to a well-rated Mexican restaurant that is nearby and likely to suit your tastes. It is the combination of social media, individual preferences and context that creates the opportunity for proactive discovery rather than reactive search. This isn't about opening Yelp and seeing the same search results as everyone else. It's about having the hardware and software that intuits the things you really care about."

Hadley Reynolds, an analyst at IDC, said this capability would be a major advance for search technology.

"Moving to a model in which the search system anticipates your intentions and makes suggestions is a big step forward from the box and links lists we have today," Reynolds said. "Google wants to lead in this trend, and they have already created the technical innovations that will allow them to do so."

Analysts Rob Enderle of Enderle Group and Brad Shimmin of Current Analysis contended that users may not have to wait long to experience it.

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