Why search engines are far from smart

Tomasz Imielinski of Ask.com says search engines should be able to say, 'I don't know the answer'

Entrepreneur interview by Meliza Solan Surdi
August 5, 2009 | Comments (1)
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/9be

In this segment, Bambi Francisco interviewed Tomasz Imielinski, executive vice president of Global Search and Answers for Ask.com.

BF: What's the marginal gain semantic technology is bringing to the search experience?

TI: Ideally, it would be the shorter distance between the query and the answer. Today, you often have to re-phrase your query. The choice of keyword or order is important. You do this many times because the choice of keyword is important. The people who are good at search are the ones who can re-phrase and get the answer. This shouldn't happen where the search engine is shifting the job to the user so the value is clear that this is a needed product. The answer should just come up and you should not have to scroll or click to find it. We are in a hurry to get the answer but the answer is still stuck in the keyword space.

BF: In this keyword paradigm. How much closer are we to understanding intent are the search engines compared to five years ago?

TI: We're closer. Intent, maybe less so. Here's how search engines get away without being less semantic. Essentially, they get away with users tagging the pages in all ways becasue they want pages to show up. If I am smart about my page, I am going to put all the synonyms and even more. A search engine could get away without understanding the words are the same. But at the same time it opens doors to spammers. So search is more semantic because there is more tagging on the Web and it relys on the eagerness of a user on the Web to come up with search results.

BF: The way I understand semantic is to get computers to really understand the data, make sense of the data, and to discern the data. So if semantic technology were a human, how old is their understanding? What grade is it in?

TI: I don't think it's in the grade. I don't want to give tasteless analogies but how would you call someone who can speak but cannot reason? The search engie holds more words than you and I know. If you ask a human being twice the same question, but you'd re-phrase you'd get a nervous reaction, with the person asking, "Why are you asking the same thing?"

BF: What are your thoughts on how Wolfram Alpha is advancing in their search?

TI: Bing is definitely a better search experiecne than Life. They have simple navigational queries. 

BF: If you hit traffic, it shows you traffic. 

TI: Yes but if you're IP address is a different one because you are using another provider, it will show you the traffic in Washignton. But if I want to refine the zip code, eventually I will break it. The biggest problem with this and other searches is you will not be more helpful to a search engine if you use more specifity. So if I specify my query in a human conversation such as searching for traffic in Edison, New Jersey, 08723, it is easier for you to answer. If you miss a number in a search engine, you will not be able to come up with results. Traffic is a great feature but it cannot discern the answer yet.

BF: You have to ask the right way.  


Rene M
Rene M, on August 16, 2009

Interesting. I disagree for anybody to use the statement of "I don't know" I rather use the phrase, "we will research the question and be back to you with an answer" Many people will not go the site if they receive ample answers of "I don't know" which can downgrade the sites information capabilities. Indeed honesty is the best policy.

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