Don't type, just talk: Google search is listening

The next generation of Google's search engine is looking for a little conversation.

If further proof were needed that the keyboard's days are numbered as a means of inputting information into a computer, Google has just provided it with the latest updates to its search engine, which will be rolling out as part of an update to its Chrome web browser later this year.

As the company's Senior Vice President, Amit Singhal, explains in an accompanying blogpost: "Search has always been about giving you the best answers quickly, regardless of what device you use. At Google I/O today, we gave an update on where we are in building the search engine of the future -- a search engine that can answer your questions, have a conversation with you, and even give you useful things without you ever having to ask."

Because typing a request into Google is so 20th century, now users will be able to simply say "OK Google," followed by a question, such as "What's the population of London?" or "Will it rain this weekend?" and Google will respond with a spoken answer. But that's just the start, a user can continue the conversation by cross-referencing answers but Google can also pre-empt further questions. For example, a request for a country's population will result in the answer, but also a comparison of those of other countries, plus historical data.

Smartphone owners who have the Google app have been able to speak to their search engine for some time, but with the roll-out to the Chrome browser, the conversation has moved to the desktop. And, of course, just like all of Google's products and services, the more people that use them and feed them, the better they become. It will only be a matter of time before the computer is answering a question before it has been asked.

This is the ultimate aim of Knowledge Graph, Google's map of people, places and things, and the links between them which, since coming online last year already has over 570 million entities and 18 billion facts about connections between them. Search is quickly moving beyond pointing a user to a web page. However, despite all of the progress that Google has made over the last 15 years, its search services are still stumped 500 million times a day with a query that has never been made before or by a question the answer to which doesn't exist on a website.

As Singhal explains: "With just the tap of a mic or flick of a finger, millions of people across the world can easily tap into the entire world's knowledge and find what they need to make their lives better, or just have their day run a little smoother. That's why we're so excited about the new search experience we're building at Google and it will change how we experience life."