Amazon Alexa and the Search for the One Perfect Answer
Wired.com, February 18, 2019
By James Vlahos
…what most users really wanted was answers, not the thrill of a hunt.
As tools for achieving this end, search engines were almost as cumbersome as their book-stuffed predecessors. First, you had to think of just the right keywords. From the long list of links that Google or Yahoo produced, you had to guess which one was best. Then you had to click on it, go to a web page, and hope that it contained the information you sought. Tunstall-Pedoe thought the technology should work more like the ship’s computer on Star Trek: Ask a question in everyday language, get an “instant, perfect answer.” Search engines as helpful librarians, he believed, must eventually yield to AIs as omniscient oracles.
This was a technological fantasy on par with flying cars, but Tunstall-Pedoe set about making it a reality.
The move toward one-shot answers has been just slow enough to obscure its own most important consequence: killing off the internet as we know it. The conventional web, with all of its tedious pages and links, is giving way to the conversational web, in which chatty AIs reign supreme. The payoff, we are told, is increased convenience and efficiency. But for everyone who has economic interests tied to traditional web search—businesses, advertisers, authors, publishers, the tech giants—the situation is perilous. To understand why, it helps to quickly review the economics of the online world, where attention is everything.
Reaching position zero requires a wholly different strategy than conventional SEO. The importance of putting just the right keywords on a web page, for instance, is declining. Instead, SEO gurus try to think of the natural-language phrases that users might say—like “What are the top-rated hybrid cars?”—and incorporate them, along with concise answers, on sites. The hope is to produce the perfect bit of content that the AI will extract and read aloud.
- True Knowledge Answer Engine, the Evi app and “conversational search.” Read the Wikipedia article Evi (software).
- “The Terrible Joy of Yelling at Alexa: The Terrible Joy of Yelling at an Amazon Echo”
Wired.com, December 27, 2018
By Emily Dreyfuss
- “The Year Alexa Grew Up: How Amazon Alexa Uses Machine Learning to Get Smarter”
Wired.com, December 19, 2018
By Brian Barrett