MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – Thousands of engineers and product specialists spend countless hours here at Google’s sprawling complex and its offices worldwide trying to solve search’s most complex problem: language.
As Google is returning results for one of the billions of queries it receives per day—a mind-blowing 15 percent have never been asked before—a hidden process powered by people and algorithms is working to make sure the answer that’s surfaced is correct and serves what the user wants.
The average person who types a question into Google and gets an answer probably doesn’t ponder how it happens—although they are aware of the snafus.
When problems do arise, such as the mislabeling of the California Republican Party as having an ideology of “Nazism,” due to vandalism on one of Google’s sources, they stand out because the search giant has generally convinced users that it understands language. But that’s not exactly the case.
“I’m here to tell you that [Google’s] understanding of language is completely different and much weaker than the way you and I understand language,” Pandu Nayak, Google’s head of ranking, told Fox News in a recent interview.
For instance, Nayak explained the search engine’s understanding of the query “Is sole good for kids?”—trying to distinguish between fish and the bottom of a shoe—is not as strong as it was a few years ago. Given that, the process of search is constantly being tweaked to serve billions of users.
“The only thing I can guarantee or say with absolute certainty is that as these problems arise we are absolutely committed toward finding solutions to them,” Nayak, who has hundreds of engineers working on his team, added.
Every year, there are trillions of searches on Google and over half of them happen on mobile.
In August, President Trump asserted that Google skews its search results against him and other figures on the right, a claim that the company vigorously denied.
“Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology,” a company spokesperson said in August.
At a time when Google is under an intense spotlight for many reasons—about 17,000 employees recently walked out over its handling of sexual harassment incidents, its withdrawal from the Pentagon’s Project Maven, calls from some quarters to break it up on antitrust grounds, and the perception that its products are “biased” against conservatives—it is still the most dominant, smartest search engine.