Google launched Google Instant in 2010, it claimed that providing results as users type and removing the need to hit the “enter” key saved users two to five seconds per search. Wolfram Alpha CEO Stephen Wolfram’s vision of what the word “Instant” could mean for search is a bit more literal.
Envisions some type of search engine which could — through data maps of personal data history — provide reports automatically when they’re needed without an explicit query. He counts this sort of “preemptive delivery of information” among “a large number” of projects the data company has been working on. Though there are no concrete plans to create such a product, here’s the type of thing Wolfram has in mind:
“Run into a person (e.g. at SXSW); your augmented reality system automatically recognizes their face, tells you your social network connections to them, plots the time series of when you’ve exchanged email with them, does topic modelling of recent material about them (or email you’ve exchanged with them) and compares it with things you’ve written recently and suggests interesting conversation topics.”Earl ier this month, Wolfram wrote a blog post about personal analytics that outlined some of the data he tracks in his own life. It includes the same sort of data that could be useful to this type of pre-emptive search.
For instance, archived every email message that’s passed through his inbox since 1989. He also tracks his keystrokes, meetings, hours spent on the phone and daily steps taken. Most of the data is recorded automatically.
In a recent blog post, Stephen Alpha included a plot that shows every email he has sent 1989
“In time I’m looking forward to being able to ask Wolfram Alpha all sorts of things about my life and times — and have it immediately generate reports about them,” he wrote in the post. “Not only being able to act as an adjunct to my personal memory, but also to be able to do automatic computational history — explaining how and why things happened — and then making projections and predictions.” How such information could also be used to deliver information when it’s needed — but before it’s asked for — is something Wolfram says Wolfram Alpha hasn’t articulated to the extent of defining a user interface. But, he told me during a meeting at South by Southwest this month, the company is in a good position to create it.
Wolphram Alpha’s computational search engine, which is built on the company’s application for computations Mathematica, delivers more than results. Instead of returning queries with a list of websites, it delivers reports. It can tell you, for instance, which planes are flying over your head or what exactly is in an enchilada. Between its developer products and consumer products, the company has in its technology arsenal tools for analytics and visualization, linguistic understanding, image processing and a way to deal with diverse data in uniform ways — all ingredients Wolfram suggests will be key to the future’s preemptive search engine.
Not all collects personal data with the same rigor as Wolfram, but he believes some day they will — and using that data to deliver information before it’s explicitly requested is all but inevitable. “It’s part of a very long-term trend towards automation of everything,” he says.