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Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Behind the Scenes at Yahoo Labs via Searchenginewatch

Dr. Gary Flake is Principal Scientist & Head of Yahoo! Research Labs. In this wide-ranging interview, he talks about the daily work of researchers at Yahoo Labs, and what they're doing to make search better. Dr.Flake explains YRL's mission is,"To produce reusable R&D results, explore areas that fall between the cracks (i.e., between BUs), and look for -- or perhaps produce -- R&D results that could disrupt the industry. Steering the activities of a group with this sort of mission requires that one take a very holistic view of R&D and see the value of diversity. By this, I mean we explicitly choose to do a lot of things in vastly different ways. We work on short, medium, and long term projects. We have activities initiated by a scientist or engineer, but we also have some efforts which are done in response to an executive goal. We work on fundamental algorithms (occasionally producing deep theoretical results), but also ground our efforts to business problems. We also work on individual products, infrastructure improvements, or even business strategy. Dr.Price expands on the state of search technology currently as,"It's easier for me to point to what web search should be and then highlight the differences. If web search were perfect, then it would produce an answer to every query that would be as good -- or better -- than if the smartest people in the world had as much time, data, and contextual information (about the user) required to fulfill the query; and it would do all of this in a split second. In other words, the search engine would be an artificial intelligence (AI) so smart that if a correct answer could be found in theory with close to infinite resources, then it would find it. If a correct answer did not exist, then the search engine would give you the next best thing: an approximation, or perhaps even an explanation as to why your query has no perfect result. (And by the way, if we realized all of the above within my lifetime, I would consider myself lucky. That should give you an idea of what sort of time frame I am talking about.)Alternative interfaces, like cell phones, voice, and snazzy graphical results are all nice, but in the end they represent relatively easy technology problems when compared to the challenges involved in realizing our hypothetical search engine. What really matters is what is under the hood.Today, search engines have almost no understanding of words or language in any significant way. They exploit the statistical properties of words and links, but in no way is there anything going on akin to understanding. Search engines don't recognize user intent, can't distinguish goal-oriented search from browsing search, and are completely ignorant of the subtleties of how different concepts relate to one another. Moreover, they completely lack wisdom -- i.e., they are very poor at distinguishing between trivia and something profound. ".In the second part of the interview, Dr.price talks about the fusion of structured and unstructured data and that theseapproaches will add a lot of utility to the lives of most users. A very insightful interview from a legend - the third part shall be published next week.Must read to understand emerging trends in search technology.
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Sadagopan's Weblog on Emerging Technologies, Trends,Thoughts, Ideas & Cyberworld
"All views expressed are my personal views are not related in any way to my employer"