Always New Mistakes

June 18, 2008

Next generation search engines

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Alex Barrera @ 2:31 pm

I was reading Scoble’s post about Windows Live Search and I realized what the future of search is going to look like (or so I think). I realized that the users don’t know how to express in a written way what they are looking for. Most of the times, you type a couple of keywords that should, theoretically, yield some results from which you can identify the one you are looking for. Human powered search engines like Mahalo have the same problems. They rely in human beings building pages with the most relevant information about a topic, but if you are looking for something not that common you’ll run into problems. Last but not least, semantic search engines like Powerset are closer to the goal, but there is still a big hurdle in the user’s way. How do you phrase, as a user, the information you are looking for? You need to type a phrase, but it’s not that obvious what that phrase should be, making it hard and slow to search things.

Now, the big problem again is writing down what are you looking for in a way the search engine understands it. How about another approach? How about a search engine that reads your mind so that it knows what you are really looking for? Most readers must have had a good laugh with the former statement but I have to say that mind reading devices are a big reality with their own field of expertise called Brain – Machine Interfaces (BMI). Several gaming companies are already using these devices to allow their players to control virtual avatars with their minds.

And how do these devices work? Generally speaking, it’s a helmet that reads neuron impulses in several areas of your brain. In the gaming example, they read the brain areas dedicated to movement, mapping neuron firing patterns to an specific movement in the game. This technology is still giving its first steps in the commercial arena, but I’m pretty sureย  we’ll see more and more devices working with it.

Now, is it a big stretch to say that we can use similar devices to read our search intentions? It is indeed, it’s something that is still out of reach. Not because of technology but because of a lack of Neuroscientific data that can be use to pinpoint which brain areas we use when searching online. But it’s just a matter of time (I’m talking about 5 to 10 years here).

Big problems with this type of search, you not only need a web index, but a neuron firing pattern index and an engine to understand them and translate that into a web search query. Another big issue is brain privacy. Your neuron firing patterns would need to be transmitted through the Internet and stored somewhere. That’s a source of major privacy concerns that should be address before using a search engine like this.

Nevertheless, and with all the problems than might arise with an idea like this, I truly think we’ll someday see something like this and I have to say it will be awesome. I don’t know if any company is currently investing in developing a mind controlled search engine, but it would be a great project for a big company like Google, IBM or Microsoft.

Do you like the nextgen search engine? What problems do you see with it? Would you use something like that?



  1. Alex,

    That’s an interesting approach to search but something that will likely get some more attention one day.


    Comment by Mark Evans — June 18, 2008 @ 4:07 pm

  2. […] Google will remain dominant. For anyone interested in Firefox 3, you can download it here. As well, Alex Barrera has some interesting thoughts on the future of search that involves the reading of brain […]

    Pingback by Where’s the Firefox for Search? | Mark Evans — June 18, 2008 @ 4:10 pm

  3. Hi Mark,

    First of all, thanks for the pingback ๐Ÿ™‚

    Indeed, it’s a bit into the future, that’s why most people will probably dub it as crazy, but as you say I think it’s going to be a very hot niche in some time.

    I believe that if we don’t think about the future we wont move forward. Sometimes we just need to step ahead of everyone else ๐Ÿ™‚

    Comment by Alex Barrera — June 18, 2008 @ 4:30 pm

  4. Next generation search engine is My Search Engine ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

    ok, ok, I have to be serious becaouse if not Alex may think that I don’t take his posts seriously and be mad at me.

    For me, the magic formula is “Keep it simple and stupid”. It worked with Google with link stuff, and will work for the next big thing. Back then at 2002, if you asked researchers, their answers would be natural language, neural networks, etc…

    But it was just as simple as analyziing the way people linked to each other.

    Comment by Jorge — June 18, 2008 @ 9:44 pm

  5. hahaha I knew you were going to make a comment ๐Ÿ˜›

    Well, while I do agreee with the KISS concept, I don’t think Google’s search engine is simple at all. Nor their contextual ads or sponsored links. There is a lot of engineering behind that.

    The concept? Yeah, very simple and clear. Very simple interface and ease of use. I’m not suggesting that this new idea has to be ugly and complex hehe The point is that, we tend to think about the future as something impossible and very complex. Truth is that we say that because, well, it’s the future and we can’t do it now ๐Ÿ˜‰

    On the other hand, one thing is an idea, and a very different thing is the execution. I spell the idea, I leave the execution to much smarter people ๐Ÿ™‚

    Comment by Alex Barrera — June 18, 2008 @ 11:17 pm

  6. yes, Alex, there is a lot of research to be done in search, advanced methods, etc…

    About 70% of search queries are very simple, one or two words, maybe three. So those people will be happy for what Google delivers.

    The rest are complex queries, where research could lead to better products. I beleive that search is a kid yet.

    Interesting stuff about Brain Machine Interfaces

    Comment by Jorge — June 19, 2008 @ 12:04 am

  7. I know I would be happy if I didn’t need to think and type the keywords, though ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Comment by Alex Barrera — June 19, 2008 @ 12:15 am

  8. Discusiรณn interesante sobre buscadores y resumen diario…

    Hoy Alex Barrera ha escrito un interesante artículo sobre ideas sobre el futuro de los buscadores . Me ha gustado el tema de Brain Machine Interfaces……

    Trackback by Comunidad de Buscaplus — June 19, 2008 @ 12:26 am

  9. I’m all for improved search engines. Hook my brain up right away.

    However, part of the problem isn’t simply interface or other barriers between humans and computers. I just blogged about the problem of not being able to find something even when you know exactly what you’re looking for.

    Search engines have various biases of their own that may or may not match the biases of the person doing the search. I’d like search engines to be more transparent about their biases and to allow more control over how information is being prioritized.

    Comment by Benjamin Steele — July 13, 2009 @ 8:49 pm

  10. Hi Benjamin! Those biases are there and everywhere. It’s true they exists, but in my opinion, it’s due to their own nature. Problem is that they manage such a huge amount of info it’s sometimes impossible to explain why a site is linked there and not another one. I tell u this because I work on a highly trafficked site and it’s very hard to explain certain situations that arose from complex algorithms as emergent behavior.

    Nevertheless, with the rise of social networks, regular search engines aren’t the only gatekeepers of the information. So no u can leverage social networks to expose your info ๐Ÿ™‚

    Comment by Alex Barrera — July 14, 2009 @ 9:49 am

  11. Yeah, I’ve been a part of social networks before, but I’m not really all that interested in that kind of thing at the moment. I’m not really trying to leverage anything. My motivations are much more modest. I mostly write for myself, but I like that others who are interested can read it as well.

    The problem with search engines isn’t primarily improved technology. The technology is decent at the moment, but the problem is that search engines treat information as a product. That is fine as far as it goes… when I’m seeking products.

    Search engines could give people better results with present technology, but they’d have to be willing to be more transparent and give more control to the user. Unfortunately, that won’t happen. Even if you improve the technology, the search engine companies wouldn’t want to give up their control. In fact, new technology will allow companies to give you even more biased results.

    You make a good point about search engines not being the only gatekeepers these days. I’m happy for that. You can even see some search engines starting to include social network capabilities. It wouldn’t surprise me if in the future search engines and social networks become more closely intertwined.

    Comment by Benjamin Steele — July 14, 2009 @ 11:07 am

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