Autonomous Search Coming to a Search Engine Near You?

What would you think about a search engine that told you what you wanted to know before you knew you wanted to know it? This is the premise behind autonomous search. Google CEO Eric Schmidt said the 

“symbiotic relationship” between man and machine is pushing the search giant to play with autonomous search, which would send search suggestions without direct input from users. What would the implications of autonomous search be and is it likely we’ll be getting search results for which we haven’t yet asked?

Autonomous search is not a new concept; Microsoft has been working on this technology and defines it as a “particular case of adaptive systems that aims at improving its solving performance by adapting itself to the problem at hand.” Schmidt’s vision for this technology is having search engines send suggestions to mobile devices without any user input. Say you are walking down a busy commercial street: you receive search suggestions for restaurants, cafes, banks, ATMs, clothing shops, and more. How does your device know you may want this information? It uses personal information to predict items of interest to you. So if you frequently search for “best Thai restaurant” or “best coffee shop,” it will send you similar suggestions.

While this may be convenient, it does raise concerns among many that it will require Google to access too much personal information. It could be invasive, and, according to technology strategist Jim McGregor of In-Stat, “Requiring that level of information will trigger a backlash. We’re already seeing a level of concern. When you have all that information in software, someone’s going to hack it and we’re going to have a disaster happen that will change the way we look at security and the way we look at the Internet. We’ve gone from free sex in the 1960s to free information now.”

Besides this legitimate concern, others in the search community find fault with Schmidt’s assertion that autonomous search could end loneliness and boredom because we would always be connected with whomever we wished. Laura Dido of the Information Technology Industry Council says, “Even though we’re connected to everybody, I don’t think that’s going to obliterate loneliness.” And it may even add to it as it increases the sense of alienation and isolation.

Is autonomous search coming? McGregor says, “If CEOs want to be seen as visionaries, that’s fine, but real changes take three to five years to come about, and they’re associated with changes in the market, changes in the industry, and changes in technology.”

There is little doubt but that Google can do this, and will. The “next great stage of search” is will have far-reaching consequences for the search world and for those who navigate through it.

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