The Future of Search

In the last hundred years, the world has seen so many revolutionary and technological advancements that have changed our lives so completely that they are hardly recognizable. And as the decades go by, advances in technology go forward at G-force speeds, and it’s almost impossible to keep up with them. As search engine technology gets better, faster, and amazingly more in line with the results users want, there are a few things still that may seem more like science fiction than possible near reality.

Search engines are continuously attempting to refine and streamline their results to fit the user’s search parameters.  Semantic search has made some advances, taking the context of a web page and delivering ads to target that particular audience, but it’s a long way from being perfect.  We are seeing trends in speech recognition software, and it keeps improving.

The next logical product of Internet search is voice activated search.  What’s amazing is that it is already being done on a far broader scale than you might imagine. The next logical step for search engine results is to not have to speak at all, but rather to “know” just what the user wants. The only way to do this is either to develop a psychic machine, or to plug directly into the human brain and read our thoughts.  You might be surprised to find out that experiments have already begun.

Accessibility options for those with hearing impairments, disabilities, and poor vision have existed for a little while now, and these have already evolved well into the world of semantics from speech recognition, of which one group of these accessibility options is referred to as alternative input devices.

These can include systems that operate by inhaling and exhaling (called sip and puff systems), touch screens, and electronic input devices that can be worn on the head and operated by eye movement, ultrasound, infrared and other light systems, or even sheer brain waves. Brain waves are the very weak electrical signals given off by the firing of millions of nerve cells in the brain, which can even be measured outside of the human head.

Two years ago, a quadriplegic man started playing video games only using his brain as a controller. Matthew Nagle, 26, has been the subject of study by scientists at Brown University and three other institutions, in collaboration with Cyberkinetics Neurotechnology Systems. As much as it just sounds like fun, it may mean the beginning of a new wave of technology for television, radio, and the Internet.  And this includes Internet search.

He was hooked up to a computer by way of a tiny implant, smaller than a dime, that sits on top of the brain to read the electrical signals and patterns there.  Then a computer program translates the brain waves it reads into computer movement.  According to the research, which was published in the British science journal Nature, Nagle learned to use the technology to literally control a computer with his mind.

This technology is improving rapidly, and is being tried by many companies for various reasons. In 2005, Sony raced to patent a game system that transmits data directly into the brain wirelessly and without implants. It uses an ultrasonic pulse to create such sensory experiences as images, sounds, and even smells.

Currently, Google is already combining satellite maps and 3-D software with its Google Earth program.  Without a good graphics card, you can forget about experiencing the real Google Earth.  Currently, virtual worlds may only be viewed socially as a gamer’s experience, but virtual technology isn’t just for gaming.  There are global real estate agencies that offer virtual tours, security systems, and even some forms of exploratory surgery that fall into the real of virtual reality.

At the end of April, Google released its free Sketch-Up program, which allows people to create 3-D layers to place over Google Earth, and Google is encouraging real estate investors and developers to utilize the tool.

Chris Taylor of CNN Money’s Business 2.0 magazine says, “The notion that you can create objects and buildings and place them in a virtual world makes Google Earth sounds less like a mapping tool and more like a metaverse. What’s a metaverse? Science fiction writer Neal Stephenson introduced the term in his seminal 1992 novel Snow Crash. The metaverse was Stephenson’s name for a virtual world where his characters play and do business. It was a black ball 1.6 times the size of Earth, with a giant street running around its equator.

“In Stephenson’s novel, millions of users uploaded customized ‘avatars,’ or virtual personalities, and strolled the street, entering shops and exclusive nightclubs, conversing and trading with the metaverse’s other denizens. It was, in effect, a 3-D version of the web.”

Virtual worlds may seem more applicable to players of World of Warcraft, EverQuest, or other role playing games (RPGs).  But as Taylor says, you can envision your mom downloading Google Earth and fiddling with it.  “I would expect to see someone using Google Earth as a virtual social space by the end of the year,” says Jerry Paffendorf, research director of the Acceleration Studies Foundation, a futurist organization, who helped arrange something called the Metaverse Roadmap Summit, a gathering of programmers of virtual worlds.

Even if we are not in the near future planning on populating the virtual universe, one thing is clear.  Google and its advances in search engine technology will never be the same, and they are unrecognizable from the primitive search engine launched over a decade ago.

Stu Wolf, one of the top scientists at the Pentagon’s scientific research agency DARPA, which is credited with giving birth to the Internet, seriously believes we’ll all be wearing computers in headbands within 20 years.  Wolf believes that by that time we’ll all be wearing tiny, lightning fast computers, and they will render the desktop a dinosaur.

“We already know we can trigger neurons mechanically,” he says. “You can interact directly with the brain without implanted electrodes. Then the next step is being able to think something and have it happen: Flying a plane, driving a car, operating household machinery.”  Controlling devices with the mind is just the beginning. Next, Wolf believes, is what he calls “network-enabled telepathy” – instant thought transfer. In other words, your thoughts will flow from your brain over the network right into someone else’s brain.  The only issue, he says, is making sure it’s consensual, which is a problem likely to tax the minds of security experts, probably literally.

There is certainly no shortage of creative inventions, especially in Silicon Valley. All one must do to be convinced is visit the annual Invention Convention Trade Show in Pasadena, California, which presents about 300 exhibits each year, and attracts about 10,000 visitors.  With the development of the Internet as a worldwide communications vehicle, the physical trade show evolved into the cyber-show.

One company in San Jose is currently experimenting with other technology that could easily advance into the Internet world.  It is also attempting to patent technology that allows tracking of thoughts in a video game, which is similar in fashion to the type of brain wave tracking devices currently in use to monitor coma patients. Time Magazine selected Dr. Lawrence Farwell as one of the TIME 100: The Next Wave, the 100 innovators who may be “the Picassos or Einsteins of the 21st century.”

Dr. Farwell’s research has led him into the field of forensic technology.  According to Time, “While developing technology that would allow the vocally paralyzed to speak, he stumbled across a trove of seemingly extraneous signals stored in the brain. He began looking for a way to put that information to use. Result: a new forensic technology he calls brain fingerprinting.”  This technology not only helps to identify human individuals, but also can detect when one is being truthful or not. It can also lead to understanding the criminal mind, and eliminating crime before it’s actually even thought of.

If this technology is already being put to work, then what may seem like the far-away future may not be as far away as we think, and the idea that controlling our search for a website with just a thought will put a whole new spin on the Internet in general, so it is hard to predict exactly what search will be like at that time.  There will probably not even be websites at that time, but rather a whole new virtual world for us to explore, like ecommerce “storefronts” producing a lifelike shopping experience.

What kind of impact will this type of search have on the SEO industry? While there are certainly no predictions that will probably even come close to what the truth will be once we reach that point, one thing is clear: the Internet will never be the same again, and the SEO industry, if it is at all still alive at that time, will also never be the same. SEOs might find themselves subscribing to the types of technology that require them to implant jacks into their own brains, just to keep a step ahead of the game. It could just be that search engines will fall by the wayside in a historical era that might just be classified as torturous to modern civilization.  I mean, why even search when you can just think? That will be something, indeed.

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