Question 17 of 365: Which questions can't Google answer?

Google wants to chronicle all of the known information in the world. In fact, it is one of their stated goals that they are always going to look and archive more information (look at number 7). It makes sense for them to continue on a relentless pace to tag and index all of the world’s knowledge. This will help people to find what they are really looking for. And yet, there are definitely times when I don’t find what I am looking for. There are times, in fact, that no search engine is of use. I type in quoted terms, questions, and specific keywords. I use Boolean operators, look into different filetypes, and even scan my social networks and RSS feeds for answers. Eventually, I realize that if the answer doesn’t exist in any kind of way that I am looking for, I may as well create it. Which is much of what happens when I blog or podcast. I am searching for an answer that doesn’t yet exist.

And those are the kinds of questions that Google can’t answer. The ones that haven’t been indexed yet. The ones that are so personal and idiosyncratic that Google’s ability to find information is hampered by the fact that it is a company collecting knowledge and not a person who is reacting directly to my needs.

For all of the attempts that Google has made to get to know me in recent days (Google Profiles, Google Web History, Google bookmarks, etc.), when I go and type in search terms, it starts from scratch. It assumes that I know nothing about the topic at hand, and it points me to the most obvious places to start looking for information. Another assumption it is making is that I am simply a consumer of information. It provides a simple method for gaining access to that information, but it certainly does not allow me to present an alternative idea. Lastly, Google (or any search engine, really) will not let you test out a hypothesis. While it may prove or disprove a fact, it is incapable of providing feedback on an idea that you have about anything from lobster ravioli to the next version of your new software package.

The questions that google can’t answer are ones that place you at the center of creating an answer, ones that require the intimate knowledge of many diverse points of information, and ones for which you already have an answer and you are trying to garner feedback enough to see if you are right.

In the end, Google is not a collaborative platform (for as much as SideWiki, SearchWiki and many SEO firms would have you believe otherwise), nor is it a place that can take all of your needs into account and point you to a real resolution. Nor is it a place for vindication. It may answer nearly all of your questions, but the ones that are the most important. The ones that you really need an answer for, Google falls flat. So, perhaps we need a different platform for those kinds of questions. Perhaps we need something more human, more collaborative, and more feedback-oriented. I think creating that platform would be a lot of fun.

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0 Comments

  1. Darren blogged (http://adifference.blogspot.com/2010/02/infoten…) about a video from Howard Rheingold the other day. Darren claims the video answers the question, “So, how do you get to the “best” stuff about something that interests you?” In large part, it does. I certainly sat taking notes on how the steps and strategies he outlines can be immensely helpful for my students.

    Another note, though, (and I was literally taking notes on a pad of paper) comes to this – no algorithm I've seen (and my clearance is admittedly non-existent) has been able to work problems the way humanity can. I go to Google for information and for the history of ideas, but I don't go to Google for ideas.

    I've also gotta say _Star Trek: The Next Generation_ has set up some pretty high expectations for what Google or SonOfGoogle will be able to do down the road. As for right now, not so much. Then again (http://teleread.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/…) and (http://www.zmescience.com/wp-content/uploads/20…)

  2. Thanks for that link. I hadn't seen this video (at least not all the way
    through).

    I feel like my main thesis really is that “humanity is required” to answer
    the biggest questions, and it isn't because we don't have access to
    information. It also isn't because we can't build a AI that can do it
    (because I do think that the level of sophistication required to answer
    complex questions through AI is coming pretty soon). It is simply because
    people are the ones who have problems. Technology can help, but it isn't the
    technology's problem; it is the person's. They have to be invested in
    answering the question and no technology is going to take the place of that
    investment.

    However, we should be able to devise systems that will allow us to invest
    our time and effort better (as the video suggests). Google isn't that system
    (at least not right now). I'm interested to know what the SonOfGoogle will
    be for sure, though.

  3. Thanks for that link. I hadn’t seen this video (at least not all the wayrnthrough).rnrnI feel like my main thesis really is that “humanity is required” to answerrnthe biggest questions, and it isn’t because we don’t have access torninformation. It also isn’t because we can’t build a AI that can do itrn(because I do think that the level of sophistication required to answerrncomplex questions through AI is coming pretty soon). It is simply becausernpeople are the ones who have problems. Technology can help, but it isn’t therntechnology’s problem; it is the person’s. They have to be invested inrnanswering the question and no technology is going to take the place of thatrninvestment.rnrnHowever, we should be able to devise systems that will allow us to investrnour time and effort better (as the video suggests). Google isn’t that systemrn(at least not right now). I’m interested to know what the SonOfGoogle willrnbe for sure, though.

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