Google widens search net and takes on Siri with iOS app
iOS speech search and adding Gmail results
Google is moving closer to a planned search singularity with the extension of the Knowledge Graph system, a trial to allow personal Gmail search results to be included in generic web searches, and an iOS app that takes voice requests and tries to answer.
Knowledge Graph, launched in May for English-speaking users of Google, uses the Chocolate Factory's massive database of searches to find semantic links between search terms. It has linked 500 million people and places with 3.5 billion attributes or connections, which are used to derive possible search results.
Where the user is looking for a list or group of subjects, Google has also added a ribbon of pictures across the top of the browser window that could be of interest. These can be clicked on to generate a new set of search results.
Google has also opened up a trial where signed-in Google users can search their Gmail accounts in the general search page. In tests it is pretty accurate and not too scary, and doesn't display matches automatically, or expose every single email on a topic.
Finally, Google is taking on Siri with a Google Search iOS application, which uses its speech recognition engine to process verbal searches and, if possible, speaks the results back to you. We haven't seen it in action but this sounds like an attempt at Siri, Apple's search agent that is both loved and hated.
"It’s very much like the computer I dreamt about as a child growing up in India, glued to our black-and-white TV for every episode of Star Trek," said Google senior vice president, Amit Singhal, as Google launched the upgrades in an event at San Francisco.
"I imagined a future where a starship computer would be able to answer any question I might ask, instantly. Today, we’re closer to that dream than I ever thought possible during my working life." ®
Re: How things change
Modern speech synthesis uses a matrix of phonemes at its core. The "Siri" voice in the UK is the same as the "Daniel" voice available for OS X Lion / Mountain Lion users and is based on the voice of Jon Briggs.
Jon went into a studio some years ago and recorded 5000 phrases in a monotone voice. From those phrases, a complete set of phonemes was extracted and these are what the synthesiser plays, adding pitch and volume changes to simulate stress and intonation.
This is why, although Siri sounds a lot better than the older fully synthesised systems of old (think Prof. Stephen Hawking), we can still tell that it's a synthetic voice. When humans modulate their voices, they do so by changing a lot more than mere pitch and volume: they constrict their throat, move their tongue, lips and change mouth-shape, change how they breathe, and so on. Our ears are trained to notice these changes, so we're still in the voice synthesis equivalent of the Uncanny Valley. But we're getting pretty damned close.
Crossing the valley completely is technically feasible, but will require paying the voice artist to record those 5000 phrases multiple times, in multiple intonations and projection levels. That alone will add days to the recording process, and it'll be very, very boring. Once processed, the resulting voice phoneme set will also be much bigger—the UK "Siri" voice is a 500MB-ish download already—and that's the biggest problem. It'd take much, much longer to process the raw sample data and produce the final phoneme matrices, and it'll take up a whopping great chunk of storage space too. Realistically, computers will need to come with either much faster storage, or a lot more RAM, as standard.
How things change
I don’t believe that your phone should be an assistant. Your phone is a tool for communicating. You shouldn’t be communicating with the phone; you should be communicating with somebody on the other side of the phone.
– Andy Rubin, SVP of Mobile at Google and founder of Android,October 19, 2011
"Shit, we don't have that feature yet"
Re: Be careful what you wish for
This is bloody true actually. Imagine a computer that simply answered your kids' questions about Santa with a flat "No", or labelled your favourite religion a "simplistic control scam". Or reminded you that political corruption and conspiracy is very, very far from "haha impossible" and that your generation will be regarded as morons for believing this for the next 1000 years.
Yeah, truth has limited use to humans. We tend to favour comfort.