Uncanny Valley of Search

There is a dip in usefulness between current levels of ability and true, human-like search ability. That's analogous to the dip in appeal of too-realistic 3D models of people known as the uncanny valley.

When I use Google, I use it as a deterministic tool. Here's how I find something specific on the web when I don't remember where it is. I perform a search with few keywords, knowing that if it exists on the searchable web, it will be somewhere in there. When I add more words to the search, the number of pages to look through decreases. I am sure this will happen, so I can choose the balance between specificity of search and number of pages.

Once Google gets a bit more sophisticated, this will no longer be possible. The algorithm will become non-deterministic, as adding more words will make it suddenly get a guess at what I "really mean" and suddenly bring up pages that don't contain any of the words I listed but fit the general gist. When that happens, It will be less useful to me than it was before, because I won't be able to leverage it as well by modeling what it is going to do in my own head. For example: Clippy the paperclip in Microsoft Word. When Google becomes freakish, unnatural and zombie-like, they can't say I didn't warn them.


Mike Stay said…
I don't think they'll ever go there completely, precisely for the reasons you suggest. They will make that service available, and perhaps the default, but you won't lose the capability to refine your search like that.

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