Why Google's Shazam-like patent has the potential to transform search

Google files Shazam-like patent

Google recently filed a patent that on first glance seems remarkably similar to Shazam. But rather than identifying music, Google will "listen" to the environment around you to answer questions like "who's in this TV programme?" or "who directed this movie?" Michael Thomson, senior digital media strategist, DigitasLBi outlines its potential.

Having already conquered the subjects of the world, Google now wants to know more about your world. In a recently published patent, Google details how it plans to use signals from your environment – such as what you’re watching on television – to create a frictionless way to search.

At Advertising Week Europe, Google introduced “Search in the Age of Assistance”, a way to connect inspiration with action, search intent with search result.

This “assisted” world that has been patented is merely a breadcrumb trail, leading us closer towards a broader ambition:

“Artificial intelligence would be the ultimate version of Google… it would understand exactly what you wanted, and it would give you the right thing.” – Larry Page, co-founder of Google.

Google would like an effortless relationship with you – after all, you know each other well. It should be easy, like a friendship.

Search for a general subject and your approach is natural. As Google has come to know what to expect from us to some extent, we also know what to expect from its response. ‘How old is Edinburgh Castle?’ will return a factual statement, much like a tour guide would. Google will now even voice your answer, which is more human than machine. Ten years ago, the response would have been a list of links.

Search has clearly made strong strides recently: using our pin-pointed location to add context to the weather, changing what it provides based on where it predicts we’re driving to, or looking at email receipts to know where we’re flying to. It will recommend we leave in 10 minutes so we don’t miss our check-in, and explore our chat history to find out which restaurant we need opening times for (without us needing to name the place when commanding). It has so far simplified our day to day lives to the best of its impressive ability.

The challenge for Google is; us, and our world. We’re complex. We’re not available for crawling and indexing, unless we have a digital footprint.

Environmental search is arguably the next natural step. It’s no longer just a matter of making our lives easier, but rather, helping us to stay engaged in the right moments.

This new development gives us a glimpse into how Google wants to know and understand us. As we discover how it plans to listen to our environment – i.e. what’s happening around us – it’s clear that it aims to improve its relationship with inspiration and action.

Like a version of Shazam, but beyond music, the search engine will – on command – answer queries like ’Who’s the lead actor in this show?’ or ‘Who directed this movie?’. By listening to your environment, it’s able to use sound to establish what you’re watching, and provide you with answers. Fast.

To make this a reality, you’d need a device with a sound recorder, making Google Home or Mobile essential. Chromecast could play a role too, but there’s no apparent reference to it in the patent.

The patent does list the types of content it will be able to carry this out for: movies, music, television shows, trailers, podcasts, images, artwork, books, magazines, internet video and video games. To get a similarly good result in today’s search, you’d need to add more meat to your query. For example, ‘Who’s the lead actor in T2 Trainspotting?’ or ‘Who directed T2 Trainspotting?’.

The difference is subtle, but what changes is the context (or environment). As the searcher, you will not need to know the name of the movie you’re watching before searching, for example.

Aside from the problem-solving that the patent authors depict, what I enjoy most is Google’s interest in us. This new solution has the potential to open up a whole new world of searches, which would typically require multiple research steps. Imagine being able to ask ‘what shoes is the actress wearing?’ or ‘what’s the name of the street they’re walking down?’ when watching a film. A welcome development for brands, I’m sure.

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