Google Getting Smarter or Merely Bigger?

According to Frederic Lardinois at TechCrunch, Google is getting "smarter":

Here is what this will look like in practice. Google is currently pretty good at understanding general search queries, but some terms are just too ambiguous. When you search for ‘andromeda,’ for example, it just can’t know if you are searching for the TV series, galaxy, or this Swedish progressive metal band. Now, whenever you type in one of these queries, Google will show you a box on the right side of the screen that lets you tell it which one of these topics you were really looking for. Once you pick the topic, the search result page will reload and show you the results related to what you were really looking for.

So if you were looking for the TV show Kings, the search result page will show you images related to the show, the right Wikipedia entry and links to episodes that are available for online streaming. If you were looking for the Sacramento Kings, though, you will get the latest box scores and other information related to the basketball team.

That’s only one part of what the Knowledge Graph now allows Google to do. The second part involves Google’s new automatically created topic summaries that will appear when you look for a topic that’s well defined by the Knowledge Graph. Say you search for the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, for example. Instead of having to click through to Wikipedia to find out when he was born, you will now see his biographical data right there on the search result page. As Gomes told me, Google, of course, knows what kind of facts around a certain person, place or event people usually search for, so it these summaries will also highlight these topics.

According to Gomes, you will see these summaries about as often as you currently see Google Maps in your search results. To put this into perspective (and sadly we couldn’t get Google to give us more concrete numbers), this launch is significantly bigger than the entire launch of Universal Search combined – and that was one of the company’s largest launches in this field.

I am forced to ask whether this sort of contextual sub-searching is too much of a good thing. There's a bit of personal angst in there: it seems to me that every time Google gets "smarter" another handful of librarians/information professionals/people who know where to find the stuff that Google can't, lose their jobs in the name of institutions being made more efficient. Meanwhile, those of us who remain need to re-think what the boundaries of privacy stand. Convince every MBA in the world of information science that Google can replace a knowledgeable information professional, and well, that's that. Technology to the rescue yet again. While I'm all for change and technical advancement, killing the pros' ability to earn a living at what they do best seems like another case of ultra-short term thinking.

Google would probably be happy as a pig in shit if nobody ever left its web pages, ever. It certainly looks as if they're worming their way into every digital nook and cranny they can find (YouTube social functions, anyone?) But, hey, it might work out better than that. Personal feelings of anxiety are not, after all, good reasons to trash talk new technologies which may very well make Google easier to use while providing better results for its users. Maybe this will herald an era of "better, smarter Googling" that librarians have been alternately pining for and loathing.

Or maybe not.

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