The Future of Google Search Is Coming Sooner Than I Expected

At Google I/O, the search kingpin reveals upcoming features that add up to meaningful progress towards its Star Trek computer dream.

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Recently, I got to visit Google’s Silicon Valley headquarters and chat with Amit Singhal, the company’s search honcho, and other employees about their vision for the future of search. (I wrote about that experience here.) Singhal in particular waxed enthusiastic about the possibility of building something as smart, helpful and effortless as Star Trek’s computer. The whole thing might have sounded pie-in-sky and unrealistic if it weren’t for the fact that the current versions of Google’s search app for Android and iOS have already taken meaningful steps in that direction.

Today, at the keynote for Google’s I/O conference, Singhal got a meaningful amount of stage time — and he talked about a bunch of new features he’d hinted at during my visit. In aggregate, they amount to additional meaningful progress towards the Star Trek computer:

  • In Chrome, Google’s classic desktop version of search will get the same conversational spoken search which is already available in the mobile apps.
  • On all platforms, that search will get smarter about interpreting queries and sequences of queries — such as “Show me things to do in Santa Cruz,” “Show me pictures of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk” and “How far is it from here?”
  • You’ll be able to go into spoken conversational mode by saying “OK, Google” rather than having to press a button to go into a special mode.
  • The Knowledge Graph, which gives Google a better understanding of facts about all sorts of entities, will try to anticipate your follow-up questions and answer them based upon what other people search for. Ask for the population of Canada, for instance, and it’ll tell you — but it will also graph how that population has changed over time.
  • Google Now’s Cards — which present you with summaries of info based all kinds of stuff Google knows about you — are adding additional types of content, such as notifications about TV shows and albums you might like. In a feature which sounds similar to something Apple’s Siri already has, you’ll also be able to create reminders that pop up at the right place and time, such as one reminding yourself to pick up milk at the grocery store.

Singhal has a bit more to say in this blog post. What he doesn’t disclose is precisely when these features will be live — but he says “soon.” I assume that means days, weeks or, at the most, a few months, not some fuzzy future time frame. They may not end up to be, as the title of Singhal’s presentation put it, “the end of search as we know it,” but I can’t wait until they all show up in my browser and on my phone. I’m also looking forward to something Singhal didn’t mention, but which I presume is also in the works: a variant of Google Now’s Cards that works in desktop browsers.

MORE: Complete Google I/O Coverage on TIME Tech