Search as Practical Artificial Intelligence


As companies continue to expand on the search craze and try to apply "Search" as a UI paradigm for just about everything imaginable (web search, video search, product search, local search, desktop search, etc.) it struck me that really what's happening is that the search box is really becoming just the place where we ask our computers questions about anything. It's more than just a search box, it's actually an interface to a rudimentary Artificial Intelligence system.

Maybe I'm the last person to get this, but really what we're doing when we use a search engine is querying what is essentially an AI system and asking for relevant - i.e. intelligent - results. The same type of results you would expect if you asked an actual person to go look up the same sort of information and provide a summary to you. In fact, I'm sure someone, some where has already pointed out the parallels between the neurons that make up a brain and the links that make up the web, no? If they haven't they should.

By UI, I don't just mean a plain page with one field and search button to click. I'm talking about the idea of asking for what you want and getting it right way. This is the power behind Quicksilver on the Macintosh, no? I don't have to look around for one icon among hundreds or thousands any more, I can just type in the name (or something close) and it pops up. It's that same sort of simple interface that we all intuitively understand: Just type what you want and it, or a list of choices, appears. I guess I first assumed that the act of typing made this app similar to the Command Line Interface, so it seemed odd at first that Quicksilver would be such a perfect match for the Mac. But it's really an obvious evolution of Computer UI - even simpler than WIMPs. It's almost biblical: Ask and ye shall receive.

So I guess I didn't get it at first, all this buzz around the search market. But really, all this momentum in "search" is really just excitement about the promise of AI becoming reality. Ask a question, any question, and get answers. "Relevant" is just another word for "intelligent." The cool thing is if you replaced the search box with a voice prompt, and you replace the SERPs with an verbalized summary, you're pretty quickly getting towards HAL, no? Maybe not, but it'd definitely be a first step.

Hmmm. I have to be the last person to get all this. But still, I think I just grokked something, and that makes me happy.


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