Saturday, October 16, 2010

Google By The Borders

Gmail's logo
In my last post I speculated a bit about what Google might be doing with all that data they are gathering from Android phones.  Earlier this evening Rea and I were heading to Borders books to purchase the book that the movie Secretariat is based on.  Borders sends us coupons regularly in email and as we were getting close to the store I decided to search for the coupon in my GMail app so I'd have it handy.  Before I'd typed a single character the helpful search feature had put up three options.  I don't recall the other two, but one of them was Borders.  I touched that option and within seconds I had located the latest coupon in my saved mail.

On the one hand I loved the convenience and speed of the experience.  On the other, it was a little spooky.  Was it just a coincidence or did Google make a quick guess where we were going based on where we were and our previous destinations in that area?

Artificial Intelligence has been around as a field since at least the 1960's.  I have a set of books I bought used in a box somewhere.  They are from the early 70's and outline the state of the art and history of the field up until that time. It's interesting to contemplate the hubris of those early pioneers.  They thought that translating between human languages would be trivial.  Even today relatively simple translations between English & Spanish are imperfect and as the two languages being translated diverge errors tend to become more common and occasionally very amusing.  What Google has now isn't really AI but there are times when it sure seems that way.  Essentially Google's tools are very good at tracking and understanding context and making associations.  This isn't intelligence per say but it can sure look that way at times.

My mother was born before the first electronic computer was built.  I've sometimes wondered what it is like to have lived through that much change.  If I live another couple of decades I strongly suspect I'll get to see more change than she has over the course of her life.  I find that thought both a little scary and very exciting.

Image via Wikipedia
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