I don’t normally watch Jeopardy! but I made a point of doing so the past two nights. This is because Jeopardy! brought back its best two contestants to compete with an IBM computer called Watson. Watching Watson work is intriguing because it says a lot about the future of computing; including the future of Web searching.
Currently, when you search the Internet you use keywords. For years developers tried to make something called context and plain language searching work, but the computers managing the search couldn’t offer good results and the efforts faded away. The reason for this is that computers, unlike human beings, cannot understand context.
When you create a keyword search on Google you have to put together enough key words to help the search engine find what you are seeking. But never does the computer really get it. The computer is simply taking the words you offer and spitting back the results that contain those words. This is why it is necessary to think through your key words and utilize different tools such as quotations marks and minus signs to get to the best result.
Some systems try to use natural language search to bad effect. Natural language search enables the user to ask a question just the way she would ask it of another human being. The problem is, since a computer cannot understand context, asking it a question the same way you ask a human creates results that are generally vast and imprecise. In the end, a natural language search is still focusing on key words in your question, and since the user simply enters a question, there often aren’t enough key words for the search engine to find good answers.
Watson has a new kind of natural language search engine that provides answers; and it does it in such a way, examines so many sources so quickly that it seems as if it understands the context of the language. Watson can manage the puns and word tricks used by the Jeopardy! clue authors. This also means Watson could provide Web sites that relate to our searches more rapidly and with better results than any search engine we currently utilize, including Google and Bing.
Of course, Watson is much more than a computer that will be able to do search, it is currently being used in laboratories to help seek cures for HIV and cancer. The future of computing is here and it is amazing, fast and extraordinary.