Google as Guidance Counselor

I actually think most people don't want Google to answer their questions. They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.

-Eric Schmidt

A recent interview with Google CEO Eric Schmidt is gaining a lot of attention, mostly for his belief that children will need to change their names as adults to escape the youthful indiscretions captured and posted on sites like Facebook. I'm more intrigued by his thoughts on the future of search.

Schmidt says, "We're trying to figure out what the future of search idea is that more and more searches are done on your behalf without you needing to type." It's easy to see the practical benefits of a 24/7 digital personal assistant. Facebook is already the only reason I ever know when anyone has a birthday coming up. I would love it if my phone reminded me I was out of milk while driving past the local grocery store, but do I really want Google to tell me what I should be doing next?

I suppose it's a matter of finesse. Right now, I think Google could recommend "next steps" to me with about as much accuracy as Netflix recommends movies, meaning not that well. Netflix thinks I will enjoy every documentary Ken Burns ever made just because I liked Spellbound. That's better than Amazon's recommendation of Sawyer's Premium Clothing Insect Repellent...which was based on my ownership of the book Colloquial Swahili, but not by much. I attended a Nerdcore show at the Casbah a few weeks ago, but I wouldn't want my phone to text me every time I pass the O'Reilly books at Borders. That's the wrong kind of nerd.

I could hope that Google's recommendations were on the level of Pandora, a music service I find useful, but that would bring its own set of problems. My musical taste is very specific, so all my Pandora stations have a laser-like focus and consist of about five songs on constant rotation. Now, I like these stations very much, but they play no part in expanding my musical horizons. If Google were like Pandora, it would only alert me when I pass liquor stores and pizzerias. I don't need my ruts dug deeper.

I hope the future of search is something amazing. I hope Google can bottle serendipity and send it to my phone. I'm fearful that the next few years will be more like Microsoft's office assistant paperclip, everpresent and annoying.