Last week Google announced that they are in the process of deploying the biggest search update since the original launch of the search engine, in order to help them better understand the context of your question, and thus the question itself.

Boolean Logic

Since it first became obvious that there needed to be some way to search the ever increasing amount of information contained in the internet, search engines have relied (and still do) on a form of algebra known as Boolean Logic.

Boolean Logic involves the use of 3 words, known as Boolean Operators, in order govern the actions of the system that applies them.  These words are OR, AND, and NOT.

By default, search engines automatically (and invisibly) insert AND between each of the keywords of your search, for example. If you use the Google instruction to exclude something from your search. (For example, “CNA Branches -Gauteng” the search engine adds a NOT before Gauteng, to look for all pages relating to CNA Branches, except for ones which mention Gauteng.)

A side effect of this is that search engines would only pay attention to the keywords of your query, and leave out all the “unimportant” words like “to” and “from” and “a.” So if you searched for “Visa for England from South Africa,” Google would return results for “Visa AND England AND South Africa” which would potentially not give you the information you wanted.

Important After All

Now though, thanks to its work in AI Voice Recognition and machine learning, Google has realised that those little unimportant words are actually pretty important after all, and with this update, Google will now be looking at all the words you type into the search box, and not just the keywords.

These words give context to the search, as in the example above, in which Google will now understand that you are a South African travelling to the UK, and not give you results suitable for a UK citizen travelling to South Africa.

According to Google Search fellow and vice president Pandu Nayak, “While we’ve continued to improve our language understanding capabilities over the years, we sometimes still don’t quite get it right, particularly with complex or conversational queries.”

Machine Learning

He explained that Google will be using their ever growing machine learning capabilities to help them “process words in relation to all the other words in a sentence, rather than one-by-one in order,” and that the search engine can “therefore consider the full context of a word by looking at the words that come before and after it – particularly useful for understanding the intent behind search queries.”

According to Google (and I agree), this is perhaps the biggest leap forward in the history of search so far.

The update is already in effect in the US< where they expect it to help them better understand at least 1 in 10 searches made in English, and they will be rolling out the update to more countries and languages over time.