What’s the biggest complaint against Siri and other virtual personal assistants (VPAs)? The complaint I see the most is that Siri doesn’t always give you the answer, but instead displays links to a bunch of web pages and makes you do the work. Try asking Siri right now, "Who built the Eiffel Tower?" and Siri will display a Wikipedia blurb and map, saying "Ok, here’s what I found." It’s up to you to read through the Wikipedia text (which seems painfully small on my iPhone 6 Plus, but I’m old) and find out that Gustave Eiffel was the designer and engineer.
Now, try typing the same question into Google. At the top of the screen, you’ll see the names and photos of Gustave Eiffel and Stephen Sauvestre. Not only did Google answer the question directly, it actually told me something I didn’t know, which is that Eiffel wasn’t the only architect who designed the famous tower.
What technology underlies Google’s ability to answer my question directly? Anyone who follows the world of SEO knows the answer to the question is the Google Knowledge Graph. The Knowledge Graph is based on mountains of information about people, things, and their interrelationships that are housed in Wikidata (and formerly in Freebase, acquired by Google in July 2010).
Google’s Knowledge Graph has evolved into the Knowledge Vault, and Jaron Collis does a great job at explaining some of the technology that powers it in this Quora response. Google leverages complex data mining and extraction algorithms to continually glean information from the web, disambiguate it, and load it into a structured graph where meaning and relationships are clearly defined and easy to query.
In my recent post on Opus Research called “The Knowledge Graph and Its Importance for Intelligent Assistance”, I look at why this technology is so important for the coming age of VPAs and enterprise intelligent assistants. If you’re a developer in the field of Big Data or Machine Learning, you may very well be building the infrastructure that powers the truly smart digital assistants of the future. Those would be the ones that can answer just about any question without making you read a web page.