Google exposes 'smart' results in search

Google search will begin deeper integration with its Knowledge Graph, as a field trial for integrating Gmail results in search debuts alongside better voice recognition in its iOS app.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Your search results in Google are about to get a big dose of Knowledge, the company announced today at a press breakfast at its San Francisco office.

Google's Knowledge Graph, its "smart" recognition of people, places, and things in search queries, is coming to English-language search results in a big way, starting with a rollout tomorrow.

Integrating the Knowledge Graph The main component of the Knowledge Graph integration will be rolled out in parts, with all English-language searches getting the basic integration. This means that if you're searching for "Chiefs," for example, Google will prioritize your location. People searching from the United States will see the Kansas City Chiefs football team at the top of the results, while people searching from Australia will see the New Zealand rugby team.

But integrating the Graph into search is more than just location-aware searching, said Amit Singhal, the senior vice president at Google for Engineering Search.

Knowledge Graph results will appear scrollable at the top of your search. Google

"If we are to build the future of search, we have to solve the hard scientific problems of speech recognition and natural language understanding. We will have to build artificial intelligence. We're not there yet, but we're taking baby steps today," he said.

Those "baby steps" have so far involved 58 experiments, and more than 530 smaller changes to search. The Knowledge Graph integration is one of the first to go public, said Shashi Thakur, the Knowledge Graph team's technical lead. "We're using the knowledge base to build apps," he said, to give the database with more than 3.5 billion attributes and connections some real-world utility.

"You shouldn't have to be a mini-search engine before you search," said Singhal, and to that end the Knowledge Graph integration is meant to let a wider range of search queries find more accurate results than before. So, searching for "famous graffiti artists" is more likely to produce the results you're looking for than it used to. It will also suggest differentiated results as you type into the search box, so both choices for "Chiefs" will appear.

The Knowledge Graph results will appear to the right of the traditional search results, but when clicked they'll appear across the top. Visual components of the results, such as pictures, will appear as a horizontal scroll bar for easy navigation. Google demonstrated this working smoothly on both a traditional PC and a tablet.

Gmail comes to search Also new to Google search is a Gmail "field test" that integrates Gmail search results with the Knowledge Graph, available now. Google is making this available to an even smaller subset of people -- U.S.-based Gmail users only. To activate it, you must opt-in at Google's registration site.

Gmail results will appear in the same righthand sidebar as Knowledge Graph results, but with an option to toggle them off. Google

Once you're in, you'll get Gmail results in the same spot as the Knowledge Base when you query relevant terms. You can use the keyword "Gmail" with your query to get Gmail results -- when seeking package-notification e-mails from Amazon, for example, you can search on "Gmail Amazon."

However, you'll also be able to use more natural queries to bring up the e-mails you want to see. Type in "My Flights," and your upcoming flight itinerary will appear, complete with confirmation number and flight information such as number, time, and seat number. The feature will also leverage the Knowledge Graph so that a real-time update of the flight status appears, a quick way to check whether your flight has been delayed.

Sagar Kamdar, the director of product management for Universal Search at Google, explained that the Gmail integration is more limited because of the unique challenges e-mail presents. "Gmail is almost the same size as our Web corpus, and now you need to make it private and secure," he said.

That body of data is enormous, said Singhal. He cited 30 trillion URLs on the Web, as compared with 1 trillion in 2008, and on an average day Google crawls 20 billion of those.

The Gmail test comes with some rudimentary security controls. You can click a globe icon on the upper right of the results to hide results, and a human silhouette icon lets you restore them. Gmail will not appear in mobile search results yet, however, because of complications from implementing the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) on the mobile Web. "It is coming," said Singhal.

Better search in iOS And in a slight that's sure to irritate Android owners, the Google Search iOS app is getting the kind of voice integration that Google debuted in Android 4.1 Jelly Bean at Google I/O in June. This means that more-natural voice queries, such as, "What will the weather be like this weekend?" will return results that recognize your geolocation and tell you the upcoming forecast. If Google recognizes a direct result, such as when you ask it to solve a math problem, it will speak the result back to you as well as showing it in the app. The feature has not yet been made available to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

In the demo that Google's engineering director for Mobile, Scott Huffman, showed us, the voice integration worked most of the time, though it repeatedly struggled with differentiating "flight" from "flights" in a search for "When is my flight?"

The update to the Google Search app has been submitted to Apple, and Google expects it to be approved in the next few days, Huffman said.

Google has bigger plans for the integration of search into its other products, said Singhal, including Calendar and Drive, which he referred to as Docs. That minor and inadvertent slip nevertheless points up the struggle the company faces in forcing a deeper level of integration of its services without causing rebellion. While from a data perspective, it may feel natural to have all your data in one place, it's a big shift from how things are currently. And toggles or not, privacy experts are likely to be concerned about Google's stronger ties between personal data and global results.

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