The Drum Awards Festival - Official Deadline

-d -h -min -sec

Google Star Trek

SXSW: Google's Amit Singhai tells how Google Glass fits in with his vision to build Star Trek computer

By Gordon Young, Editor

March 10, 2013 | 5 min read

The future of search is likely to resemble the talking computer out of Star Trek, Amit Singhai, Google's head of search told the SXSW conference.

In fact, he described how as a young boy growing up in India, he was felt inspired by the antics of Captain Kirk, which he watched on a small black and white television.

"I too wanted to fly around the galaxies with a talking computer," he said, "I am working on the computer part. Elon Musk is working on the space ship part."

The comment caused laughter. But one sensed it was not made entirely in jest and was the similar to the story he told The Drum during an interview last May.

"I will let you in in a secret," he said, "Having all of humanity's knowledge on the web is not enough, people need to understand that knowledge. Going forward an entire eco system will evolve to create a Star trek type computer because that is what consumers want, they want an assistant by their side."

He added, that this of course means that voice will play a larger part in search, as well as an ability to predict what you may need to know.

"It should be able to to tell you things - like if you have booked a flight, you should not have to ask if the flight has been delayed it should just tell you. Or if you have a meeting and there is a traffic jam Google should be able to say you need to leave now, the traffic is bad."

All of which of course means the Google of the future will need to know more about you, than it does even now. What about privacy?

"We take it very seriously," said Singhai, "We are people with private lives too. We have built the most secure systems to store all the data we have.

"You read how people in the other side of the world have tried to hack into our systems, we have been tremendously successful in fending of these attacks."

Singhai, who joined Google in 2000, is said by some to be a master of what Google calls its ranking algorithm.

That makes him a good man to ask for an SEO tip or two. So what advice would he give to those looking to bolster their rankings?

"If you build high quality content, that adds value, and your readers seek you out, then you do not have to worry about anything else. Your site will automatically work."

"So SEO is bullshit?" asked an incredulous moderator, Guy Kawasaki.

"No," replied Singhai, "SEO helps companies understand the search index. if your titles says, 'Welcome, add your title here,' it won't work, for example."

Singhai came across as an idealist and advocate for Google's original 'do no evil' credo.

"Let me tell you a story makes that still makes me come into work every day, jumping up and down.

"I met a farmer from Africa and he was plagued by ants on his potato crops. It was the only way he had of earning a living. He went to a local internet cafe, and learned he could just spread ash on the crop from his own fire to solve the problem. And do you know, he had a bumper crop as a result.

"And that was because somebody like you had put that information on the web, and we had built the search system so he could find it.

"The web community is working together to improve humanity."

However, although Singhai is happy to see everyone else's knowledge on the web, he is keen to protect some of Google's trade secrets. He would not be drawn on the specifics he is working on now, and joked that all new recruits at Google are taken out for a few drinks. If they give away too much information when under the influence they are fired!

But he was prepared to give insights on the general direction of travel. He revealed that new devices such as Google Glass make this am exciting time to be in the search business.

"I am very excited by these new devices, for guess what they will all need? Search. As a result they will give us new contexts for search; how will people interact with them for example. Really exciting stuff for search, particularly when you start thinking how to marry up all these devices."

But with Facebook investing in search, Google may not be the only show in town for too long. But Singhai did not seem too concerned. "We will see if people need that sort of search."

So it looks like Facebook will not deflect Singhai from his quest to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Google Star Trek

More from Google

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +