In this Big Think interview, Microsoft Senior Director of Search Stefan Weitz discusses the exciting future of search technology. It’s going to become more ambient, more transparent, says Weitz. It may not even resemble a modern-day search system at all. The indices will be replaced with knowledge synthesizers. Search will no longer be a collector of knowledge, but rather a mode of creating new knowledge.
Stefan Weitz: I would say that a 21st century search system doesn’t look like a search system at all. I think the most interesting part about where search is headed is that it will become more ambient, more transparent. I think in even, I don’t know, five years, 10 years, sometime in the future this notion of saying I’m going to go search for that; I’m going to go search that; I’m going to go Google that; I’m going to Bing that will sound as outmoded as someone saying I’m going to go get online. In the old days before broadband internet was broadly distributed and before we had wireless access everywhere, you would have to consciously say to yourself I’m going to go dial up to AOL, Compuserve, one of these old services and get online. You had to stop your train of thought, interrupt your task, and do that. And search is kind of the same way today. When you think about it if you’re in the middle of something else and you want to figure out the ratings for a particular restaurant that your Uber is going to take you to, you have to switch apps and go to a search app and punch it in and that’s very disruptive. What we’re seeing now search heading — it’s becoming more interwoven throughout all the different experiences. So as you are engaging in experiences anywhere, search has simply become relevant and become part of that experience that you’re engaging with. So that’s the first thing I think is you’re going to see search as this construct begin to blend into the fabric of what you’re doing.
Search will also, however, stop just simply being an index. We’re already seeing in many cases today search creating knowledge, synthesizing knowledge. And that’s a pretty exciting thing. Traditionally search has been all about finding something somebody has written or published or whatnot, indexing that, retrieving it when someone asks a question pertaining to it. Because of the work that all these companies have done over the last 15 years, the ability for search to physically understand the world in which it lives has been boosted dramatically, meaning that search now has the ability to process the world. Not just index, but make sense of all these things, make sense of who I am, make sense of who I know, make sense of what I like and create content about me, about the world in ways that just didn’t exist. And so it’s really exciting for nerds like me because suddenly we’re not just retrieving things that already exist out there; we’re finding patterns; we’re finding insights; we’re finding things that no one even knew using all of this computational power that we have. So the fact that, you know, heading down — if I have to go up to midtown today avoiding a certain street because there’s congestion. That’s a very simple example of what search has. Search has looked at all the data coming in from all the different cars and the streetlights and the cameras and whatnot and said there’s something happening here on the 38th, right, so you should route around that thing.
That isn’t indexed anywhere. That is a synthetic creation of search. So I think that’s the second really exciting thing, the first one being again the transparency of it. The second thing being this predictive power and this creation ability of it. The last thing really I’m most excited about is the ability that we’ll have to interact with it in new and different ways. And so in the same way that’s becoming more transparent, search will be able to again be ambient around us and it will be something where you’re not even necessarily thinking about, "I need to go search something." You just — as you’re engaging with something, as you’re pointing at something, as you’re looking at something depending on what you’re wearing, as you’re having a conversation with somebody, depending on what you allow search to do, it can be part of your everyday corpus. It’s part of your life and so it’ll be something which is listening and looking and thinking for you and with you to augment your daily life in ways that today is very much a conscious act that you have to go do. So that’s the kind of the third area. It’ll be an augmentation to your life in ways that you haven’t really explored today.