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Google VP on semantic search and the Semantic Web

Google VP on semantic search and the Semantic Web

Tim Finin, 9:00am 11 November 2009

PCWorld has a story, Google VP Mayer Describes the Perfect Search Engine, with some interesting comments on semantic search from Marissa Mayer, Google’s vice president of Search Products & User Experience.

“IDGNS: What’s the status of semantic search at Google? You have said in the past that through “brute force” — analyzing massive amounts of queries and Web content — Google’s engine can deliver results that make it seem as if it understood things semantically, when it really functions using other algorithmic approaches. Is that still the preferred approach?

Mayer: We believe in building intelligent systems that learn off of data in an automated way, [and then] tuning and refining them. When people talk about semantic search and the semantic Web, they usually mean something that is very manual, with maps of various associations between words and things like that. We think you can get to a much better level of understanding through pattern-matching data, building large-scale systems. That’s how the brain works. That’s why you have all these fuzzy connections, because the brain is constantly processing lots and lots of data all the time.

IDGNS: A couple of years ago or so, some experts were predicting that semantic technology would revolutionize search and blindside Google, but that hasn’t happened. It seems that semantic search efforts have hit a wall, especially because semantic engines are hard to scale.

Mayer: The problem is that language changes. Web pages change. How people express themselves changes. And all those things matter in terms of how well semantic search applies. That’s why it’s better to have an approach that’s based on machine learning and that changes, iterates and responds to the data. That’s a more robust approach. That’s not to say that semantic search has no part in search. It’s just that for us, we really prefer to focus on things that can scale. If we could come up with a semantic search solution that could scale, we would be very excited about that. For now, what we’re seeing is that a lot of our methods approximate the intelligence of semantic search but do it through other means.”

I interpret these comments to mean that Google’s management still views the concept of semantic search (and the Semantic Web) as involving better understanding of the intended meaning of text in documents and queries. The W3C’s web of data model is still not on their radar.


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