Google's future: microphones in the ceiling and microchips in your head

Google's ideas for a world of search without typing are taking outlandish shape

"I don’t have a microchip in my head – yet," says the man charged with transforming Google’s relations with the technology giant’s human users.

But Scott Huffman does envisage a world in which Google microphones, embedded in the ceiling, listen to our conversations and interject verbal answers to whatever inquiry is posed.

Huffman, Google's engineering director, leads a team tasked with making conversations with the search engine more reflective of the complex interactions people enjoy with each other.

The future of the $300 billion business depends upon automatically predicting the search needs of users and then presenting them with the data they need.

“Computing is becoming so inexpensive that it’s inevitable that there will be a ubiquity of connected devices around us, from our lapel to our car to Google Glass [a new optical head-mounted computer],” said Huffman during a visit to the UK from the company’s California base.

A microphone hanging from the ceiling, responding to verbal queries, would remove the need to whip out a phone to remind yourself what time tomorrow’s flight leaves. It could also make sure you don’t miss the flight altogether.

“Like a great personal assistant, it will interrupt you and say ‘ you’ve got to leave now’. It will bring you the information you want,” Mr Huffman said.

In fact, believes Mr Huffman, who has been working on refining search for 15 years, the clunky physical act of typing requests into Google’s search box will gradually recede almost to nothing.

The information could be relayed via “a wearable device, perhaps it might have a small screen, which you can only interact with through your voice and maybe touch but nothing else".

For play as well as work

The microphone network would have leisure uses too.

“Imagine I can say to a microphone in the ceiling of the room ‘ Can you bring up a video of the highlights of yesterday’s Pittsburgh Steelers game and play it on a TV in the living room?’ and it works because the Cloud means everything is connected,” he says.

“I could ask my Google ‘assistant’ where we should have lunch, that serves French food and isn’t too expensive? Google will go ‘ Ok, we’ll go to that place’ and when I get in my car it should already be navigating to that restaurant. We’re really excited by the idea of multiple devices being able to talk to each other.”

Whether Google users want a microphone embedded in every ceiling is another matter after the company became enveloped in a crisis of trust following Edward Snowden’s revelations about the US Government's National Security Agency’s clandestine electronic-surveillance programme PRISM.

On Monday, Google joined forces with fellow tech giants including Facebook, Apple and Yahoo! to call for sweeping changes to US surveillance laws and an international ban on bulk collection of data to help preserve the public’s “trust in the internet”.

“We take privacy and security very seriously,” Mr Huffman said. “ Our goal is to keep users’ information private and use it in a way that helps that user. When I ask Google for travel information during my trip it draws it out using my hotel confirmation email. So I’m trusting Google with that information and in exchange I’m getting that value.”

Google believes it can ultimately fulfil people’s data needs by sending results directly to microchips implanted into its user’s brains. Research has already begun with such chips to help disabled people steer their wheelchairs.

“If you think hard enough about certain words they can be picked up by sensors fairly easily. It’ll be interesting to see how that develops,” Mr Huffman said.

His current priority is utilising Google’s Knowledge Graph, an expanding store of information holding 18 billion facts on 60 million subjects, to deliver a more “human” search response. Voice-based search requests are more complex than the two-word searches typed into the search engine.

“My team is working very hard on the idea of a richer conversation with Google. We use a fairly complex linguistic structure in conversation that Google today doesn’t understand.

“But five years from now we will be having that kind of conversation with Google and it will just seem natural. Google will answer you the same way a person would answer.”

The engineer adds: “Google will understand context in conversation but it’s not an armchair psychiatrist. You can’t have a conversation about your mother. Google can’t talk to me about how I feel about things until it understands factual ‘things’. We’re just getting started understanding ‘things’ in the world.”

Video: Google Glass prescription lens prototype

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
science
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
News
Comedian Ted Robbins collapsed on stage during a performance of Phoenix Nights Live at Manchester Arena (Rex)
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Web Design Apprentice

    £6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a well established websit...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior .Net Application Developer

    £40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: .Net / SQL Developer

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A skilled .NET developer with e...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Technical Support Engineer - PC/Mac

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company are cur...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links