Google today announced a number of improvements in its main search engine, with a strong focus on how the company uses AI to help its users. These include the ability to better answer questions with very specific answers, very broad questions, and a new algorithm to better handle typos in your queries. The company also announced updates to Google Lens and other search-related tools.
Most of them are meant to be useful, but some are just fun. You will now be able to hum a song and Google Assistant will try to find the right song for you, for example.
As Google noted, 1 in 10 search queries is misspelled. The company is already doing a pretty good job with these through the “you meant” feature. The company is now launching an improvement on this algorithm, which uses a deep neural network with 680 million parameters to better understand the context of your search query.
Another great new feature is the integration with various data sources, which were previously only available as part of Google’s Open Data Commons, into Search. Now, if you’re asking questions about something like “employment in Chicago,” Google Knowledge Graph will trigger and show you graphs with that data right on the search results page.
Another update the company announced today, in the ability of its systems to index parts of pages to better respond to niche queries such as “how do I determine if my windows have UV glass?” The system can now direct you to a specific paragraph at the DIY forum. Overall, this new system will improve about 7% of queries, Google said.
For broader questions, Google is now using its artificial intelligence system to better understand the nuances of what a page has to better answer those queries.
Nowadays, many videos can also be found in videos. Google already uses advanced computer recognition and speech recognition to highlight key moments in videos – something you can already find in Search today, but this new algorithm should make it even easier, especially for videos where creators have not yet tagged content.
Other updates include an update to Google Lens, which allows you to ask the app to read a passage from a photo of a book – regardless of language. The lens can now also understand mathematical formulas – and then show you step-by-step guides and videos on how to solve it. This works not only for mathematics, but also for chemistry, biology and physics.
Given that the holiday shopping season is coming up, it’s no surprise that Google is also launching a number of updates to its shopping services. In particular, the company is launching a new feature in Chrome and the Google app, where you can now long-click on any image and then find related products. And for fashion challenges, the service will also show you related items that tend to appear in related images.
If you are shopping for a car, you will now be able to get an AR view on them so you can see what they look like in your driveway.
In Google Maps, you can now also point to a restaurant or other local business when you use AR walking directions to see, for example, their business hours.
Another new feature of Maps is that Google will now display live employment information directly on the map, so you don’t have to search for a specific location to see how busy it is at the moment. This is a useful feature in 2020.
During the event (or indeed, the video premiere, because it’s 2020), which was tuned to the most soothing music, Google’s search manager, Prabhakar Raghavan, also noted that his BERT update from 2019 to the part from its natural language search system, the system is now used for almost every query and is available in more languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi, Arabic, German and Amharic. This is part of more than 3,600 updates the company made for its search product in 2019.
All of these announcements are taking place against the backdrop of various governments reviewing Google’s business practices, so it’s probably not surprising that the event also focuses on Google’s privacy practices and that Raghavan regularly talks about “open access” and that Google Search is free for all and everywhere, with ranking policies applied “fairly” to all websites. I’m sure Yelp and other Google competitors would not fully agree with this latter statement.