Google puts AI expert in charge of search business

15/02/2016

Google has put its Artificial Intelligence lead engineer John Giannandrea in charge of its search operations, signalling the growing role of machine learning inside the company.

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The move follows the departure of Amit Singhal, the 15-year Google veteran and head of Google Search, who is leaving to pursue philathropic projects and to spend more time with his family.

Singhal will leave at the end of February, and AI chief John Giannandrea will move to head up Search.

With the transition, Google is merging the research efforts with search, an indication of the priority of machine learning inside the company. The division now has access to the most critical and lucrative part of Alphabet's business- search advertising.

Google’s decision to replace Singhal with Giannandrea signals that AI (e.g. Google Now predicting what users want before theyb search for it) will play a larger part in the future of search.

In his current role as engineering VP Giannandrea oversees 'deep neural networks' of hardware and software that analyse vast amounts of digital data.

These networks have been used in the past to identify objects in photos without human input (eg. the AI learned what an image of cat was by matching thousands of simlar images found across the web). The technology can also recognise commands spoken into a smartphone, and respond to Internet search queries.

As the tech evolves, some complex tasks (and even descisions) can be performed better and faster than humans, at a much larger scale.

As a result, in 2015, Google began rolling out a deep learning system called RankBrain that helps generate responses to search queries. As of October 2015, RankBrain played a role in “a very large fraction” of the millions of queries that go through the search engine with each passing second.

Singhal has often said his life's mission was to get Google ever closer to "the Star Trek computer." His dream is to allow people to ask their computers and phones questions in natural language, and have the phone immediately understand and spit back the answer.

Singhal pioneered Google's search technology, helping to decipher the context of a user's keywords to produce more relevant results- one of the companies biggest strengths over the years.

"My dream Star Trek computer is becoming a reality, and it is far better than what I ever imagined," Singhal wrote in a Google+ post announcing his next endeavors.

Singhal said he wants to spend more time with his family and pursueew philanthropic projects.
"I love Google." he said. "I look back at my time here with a profound sense of gratitude that I was a part of building this."

He posted a retirement message on Google Plus:

It fills me with pride to see what we have built in the last fifteen years. Search has transformed people’s lives; over a billion people rely on us. Our mission of empowering people with information and the impact it has had on this world cannot be overstated. When I started, who would have imagined that in a short period of fifteen years, we would tap a button, ask Google anything and get the answer. Today, it has become second nature to us. My dream Star Trek computer is becoming a reality, and it is far better than what I ever imagined.

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