In the future we'll be talking, not typing

Stephan Spencer on how autonomous intelligence and language processing will transform search.

Search algorithms thus far have relied on links to serve up relevant results, but as research in artificial intelligence (AI), natural language processing (NLP), and input methods continue to progress, search algorithms and techniques likely will adapt.

In the following interview, Stephan Spencer (@sspencer), co-author of “The Art of SEO” and a speaker at the upcoming Web 2.0 Expo, discusses how next-generation advancements will influence search and computing (hint: your keyboard may soon be obsolete).

What role will artificial intelligence play in the future of search?

Stephan SpencerStephan Spencer: I think more and more, it’ll be an autonomous intelligence — and I say “autonomous intelligence” instead of “artificial intelligence” because it will no longer be artificial. Eventually, it will be just another life form. You won’t be able to tell the difference between AI and a human being.

So, artificial intelligence will become autonomous intelligence, and it will transform the way that the search algorithms determine what is considered relevant and important. A human being can eyeball a web page and say: “This doesn’t really look like a quality piece of content. There are things about it that just don’t feel right.” An AI would be able to make those kinds of determinations with much greater sophistication than a human being. When that happens, I think it will be transformative.

What does the future of search look like to you?

Stephan Spencer: I think we’ll be talking to our computers more than typing on them. If you can ask questions and have a conversation with your computer — with the Internet, with Google — that’s a much more efficient way of extracting information and learning.

The advent of the Linguistic User Interface (LUI) will be as transformative for humanity as the Graphical User Interface (GUI) was. Remember the days of typing in MS-DOS commands? That was horrible. We’re going to think the same about typing on our computers in — who knows — five years’ time?

Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco 2011, being held March 28-31, will examine key pieces of the digital economy and the ways you can use important ideas for your own success.

Save 20% on registration with the code WEBSF11RAD

In a “future of search” blog post you mentioned “Utility Fog.” What is that?

Stephan Spencer: Utility Fog is theoretical at this point. It’s a nanotechnology that will be feasible once we reach the phase of molecular nanotechnology — where nano machines can self-replicate. That changes the game completely.

Nano machines could swarm like bees and take any shape, color, or luminosity. They could, in effect, create a three-dimensional representation of an object, of a person, of an animal — you name it. That shape would be able to respond and react.

Specific to how this would affect search engines and use of the internet, I see it as the next stage: You would have a visual three-dimensional representation of the computer that you can interact with.


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