by Bill Snyder

Google Voice Search is getting smarter

Nov 16, 2015
Google DriveInternetWeb Search

Recent improvements in the Google app let the search engine understand you better and handle more complex queries delivered in natural language.

Who was the U.S. president when the Angels won the World Series? Sure, knowing that the answer is George W. Bush is trivia at its most trivial. But being able direct the question to your smartphone illustrates something important about Google Voice Search: It’s gotten a lot better recently and can now parse complex questions that would have stumped it in the past.

In a blog post yesterday, Google’s Satyajeet Salgar said “The Google app is starting to truly understand the meaning of what you’re asking. We can now break down a query to understand the semantics of each piece.”

Google gets the superlatives

Google search and voice search can now understand superlatives, such as tallest, or largest. So you might ask a question like “Who is the tallest player on the Golden State Warriors?” or “What are the largest cities in North Dakota?” When I asked Google about the Warriors it quickly returned a list and pictures of the entire team sorted by height, starting with 7-foot Andrew Bogut. As to North Dakota, the search engine told me that the largest is Fargo with 113,658 people and the smallest is Ruso, population four, as of 2013.

Google Voice has gotten better at understanding how dates relate to a search query. For example, you could ask Google Voice “What was the population of Singapore in 1965” and get the right answer – 1.879 million.

Answering this question, “What was the U.S. population when Bernie Sanders was born?” involves multiple levels of search: Which Bernie Sanders are we talking about, when was he born and what was the population that year? After sifting through enormous amounts of data, Google came up with the correct answer — the population of the U.S. in 1941 was 133.4 million, and it took less than a second.

The question about the World Series is a tough on, too. The screen shot that accompanies this post will give you a rough idea of how Google can correctly name the president in question. (Google Voice Search has also gotten better at working in noisy environments.)

Google —  the company, that is —  has a reputation for a certain arrogance, and it’s probably deserved. But you’ve got to like the modest coda to Salgar’s blog post in which he explains the limitations of the technology.

“We’re still growing and learning, which means we make mistakes. Ask Google “Who was Dakota Johnson’s mom in the movie?”, and we’ll respond with the movies of Dakota Johnson’s real-life mother Melanie Griffith, not the actor Jennifer Ehle who played Anastasia’s mother Carla in the 50 Shades of Grey movie. (Hey, that one’s tricky even for people!)”