Google today detailed improvements to its main Android and iOS app, Google (formerly called Google Search), specifically related to answering questions. You can download the latest version now from Google Play and Apple’s App Store.
The app is now better at understanding complex questions, which you can ask by typing or speaking. In particular, the Google app can now handle superlatives, ordered items, and dates.
The Google app can “truly understand the meaning of what you’re asking” by breaking down a query to understand the semantics of each piece and figure out the overall intent. Google can then traverse its Knowledge Graph “much more reliably” to get you a more accurate answer.
The question “Who was the US President when the Angels won the World series?” is broken down into four components: the list of presidents, the country, the baseball team, and the World Series winners by year. The first two get a list of presidents of the U.S., while the last two get the year the Angels won the World Series, which in turn give you George W. Bush.
Google offered specific examples of questions that use superlatives, ordered items, and dates the app can now answer:
- Who are the tallest Mavericks players?
- What are the largest cities in Texas?
- What are the largest cities in Iowa by area?
- What was the population of Singapore in 1965?
- What songs did Taylor Swift record in 2014?
- What was the Royals roster in 2013?
- What are some of Seth Gabel’s father-in-law’s movies?
- What was the U.S. population when Bernie Sanders was born?
The last two, and the Bush example above, are examples of complex combinations. The app can handle these, though Google admitted it can still be tripped up.
Asking the Google app “Who was Dakota Johnson’s mom in the movie Fifty Shades of Grey?” will give you a list of the movies of Dakota Johnson’s real-life mother Melanie Griffith, not the actress Jennifer Ehle. Thankfully, questions like that aren’t very common.
As the word error rate decreases and as understanding improves, search will get to a point where you no longer have to pick the right set of keywords to get the result you’ll be looking for. You’ll just be able to ask, and that’s exactly what Google is hoping to achieve.