Stumped for keywords? Google moves to better process searches

New system relies on AI tool designed for long, complicated sentences, gives far more precise results

SAN FRANCISCO • Google is injecting its search engine with new technology to better interpret the billions of Web queries it handles every day, a change top executives described as one of the most significant in the company's history.

This shift, announced yesterday, moves the world's biggest search engine from spitting out results based on keywords to "something closer to language", said Mr Ben Gomes, the search chief for Google.

"We're very far from solving the problem fully, but this is a huge step forward," he said at a press briefing.

Google has no peers in Web search. But improvements to its core search technology are critical for keeping an edge in adjacent areas, primarily voice-computing, where Google competes with Amazon.com

The new system relies on a Google artificial intelligence tool designed to parse long, complicated sentences, rather than just strings of words.

In tests, Google executives said it produced far more precise results.

Any tweaks to Google search have ripple effects across industries that depend on it for Web traffic.

Over the years, Google has moved further away from its old 10 blue links results page.

It now shows more results from its own services for some queries, such as flight information, or pulls out blocks of texts from websites into what it calls "featured snippets".

Rivals have complained furiously to regulators that Google's actions are anti-competitive.

The Google executives said the new system produced more featured snippets in results outside the United States.

They insist that Google is not pulling eyeballs away from others, but that improvements to search results drive more searches and overall Web traffic.

"If people are able to get more queries answered, they ask more queries," Mr Gomes said.

"And that results in more traffic to the overall ecosystem."

The new system will be applied to search results in English first and then expand. Google said it will not immediately affect search advertisements.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2019, with the headline 'Stumped for keywords? Google moves to better process searches'. Print Edition | Subscribe