Google unveils synonym tech

Google synonym tech

Google has unveiled a new technology platform designed to bridge the gap between the way computers talk and the way human's use language.

The company's new synonym tool is able to understand what users are searching for by not always taking words too literally. For example, someone searching for pictures in the context of a wider sentence might actually mean photos instead.

The development has been in the works for more than five years and is aimed at helping computers understand our language in the same way that we understand how they speak.

"An irony of computer science is that tasks humans struggle with can be performed easily by computer programs, but tasks humans can perform effortlessly remain difficult for computers. We can write a computer program to beat the very best human chess players, but we can't write a program to identify objects in a photo or understand a sentence with anywhere near the precision of even a child," Steven Baker, a software engineer at the company, said in a blog post.

"Enabling computers to understand language remains one of the hardest problems in artificial intelligence. The goal of a search engine is to return the best results for your search, and understanding language is crucial to returning the best results. A key part of this is our system for understanding synonyms... While even a small child can identify synonyms like pictures/photos, getting a computer program to understand synonyms is enormously difficult, and we're very proud of the system we've developed at Google."

Google's web search ranking team are behind the innovation and have recently analysed how well the system performs, according to Baker.

"Our measurements show that synonyms affect 70 per cent of user searches across the more than 100 languages Google supports. We took a set of these queries and analysed how precise the synonyms were, and were happy with the results: For every 50 queries where synonyms significantly improved the search results, we had only one truly bad synonym," added Baker.

"An example of a bad synonym from this analysis is in the search [dell system speaker driver precision 360], where Google thinks "pc" is a synonym for precision. Note that you can still see that on Google today, because while we know it's a bad synonym, we don't typically fix bad synonyms by hand. Instead, we try to discover general improvements to our algorithms to fix the problems. We hope it will be fixed automatically in some future changes."

Google is calling on users to help refine the system and make it better. Those looking to raise issues can post questions on Google's web search help centre or on via Twitter by using #googlesyns in the tweet.

"...Language is used with as much variety and subtlety as is present in human culture, and our algorithms still make mistakes. We flinch when we find such mistakes; we're always working to fix them," Baker said.

"One of the best ways for us to discover these problems is to get feedback from real users, which we then use to inspire improvements to our computer programs."

Maggie Holland

Maggie has been a journalist since 1999, starting her career as an editorial assistant on then-weekly magazine Computing, before working her way up to senior reporter level. In 2006, just weeks before ITPro was launched, Maggie joined Dennis Publishing as a reporter. Having worked her way up to editor of ITPro, she was appointed group editor of CloudPro and ITPro in April 2012. She became the editorial director and took responsibility for ChannelPro, in 2016.

Her areas of particular interest, aside from cloud, include management and C-level issues, the business value of technology, green and environmental issues and careers to name but a few.