Google wants to streamline online searches even more now, allowing users on to information they need even before they know that they what they want.
Amit Singhal, one of Google's veteran search algorithm engineers, wants to develop a search engine that second-guesses users' needs well ahead of time.
"I call it searching without searching," New Scientist quoted him as saying at a briefing at Google's London headquarters yesterday.
Giving an example of his wife's upcoming birthday, he said, "It might suggest I buy her an iPad and point me to some relevant product reviews," he says. But SWS might also discover, again from fishing in recent social media, that the local gadget store has a three-week waiting list for iPads. "So it would bring forward its alert to give me time to order it."
Singhal points out that Twitter can beat newscasters to warn you of events that might affect you: an earthquake that hit San Francisco in January sent ripples through Twitter 10 minutes before a news alert from the US Geological Survey alerted the professional news media.
However, the hitch is that the search engine might prompt you for a whole lot of information about your life and the lives of those close to you. It will know birthdays and anniversaries, consumer gadget preferences, preferred hobbies and pastimes, even favourite foods. It will also know where you are, and be able to get in touch with your local stores via their websites.
"If searching-without-searching happens, it needs to be done in an incredibly privacy-preserving way, with full control by the users over what it knows," Singhal says. "That's going to take an awful lot of innovation," Singhal says.