Alphabet Inc’s latest Google executive reshuffle provides the strongest signal yet that the firm feels artificial intelligence is the future of search. Google’s Senior Vice President for Search, Amit Singhal, will retire later this month. His replacement will be John Giannandrea, an engineering vice president who helms the firm’s artificial intelligence (AI) division. The move illustrates just how much Google is pinning the future of search on AI.
When Singhal joined Google in 2000, he was its 176th employee. He was one of the firm’s most influential engineers, playing a key role in Google’s rise to becoming the world’s most valuable firm.
One of his first tasks was rewriting Google’s search engine code, which helped the firm overtake Yahoo. Other projects he worked on include Google Now.
Alphabet Inc sees AI as the future of Google Search
Singhal’s replacement, John Giannandrea, is a Scottish engineer who joined Google when the firm acquired his startup, Metaweb Technologies, which eventually became the basis of Google’s Knowledge Graph. His past roles include being CTO of Netscape.
Much of Giannandrea’s work at Google has revolved around using machine learning in Google products. Examples include a Gmail hack that responds to emails automatically using AI and the image recognition feature in Google Photos.
The role of artificial intelligence has been growing at Google and competitors such as Amazon. It is the driving force behind projects such as self-driving cars and products that can respond to voice commands.
Last week, Google bought DeepMind, a firm that developed computers that beat a human expert in a Chinese board game called Go that is more complex than chess.
Placing the AI head in charge of Search is very telling of the firm’s future direction. Google is moving away from simply searching in a text box toward creating something that serves more as an assistant who can predict a user’s needs in various situations.
Science fiction inches closer to reality
In a Google+ post, Singhal wrote: “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.”
It is fitting that his announcement mentions Star Trek, which has played a big role in his work. He even once had staff create a prototype communicator badge like the one used by Picard and his crew.
His replacement is also a Star Trek fan. Giannandrea said that the Starship Enterprise’s onboard computer has inspired his research.
Despite the many advancements that have been made in the IT world, Giannandrea thinks there is much more work to go.
He said in an interview with Fortune in April: “I think computers are remarkably dumb. A computer is like a 4-year-old child.”
Alphabet Inc announced on Monday that its Q4 2015 revenue reached $21.3bn, while its operating income was $5.4bn. These figures were big jumps over those noted in Q4 2014, and the firm is hoping AI will boost its profits even further