Semantic Search: Humans Win the Interwebs!

Wendy Kelly
Jan 30, 2014
Semantic Search: Humans Win the Interwebs!

Your job just got a whole lot easier if you write for the Interwebs. And it's going to get easier still from here on out, if you're human and are able to relate well to other humans. This is in part because of semantic search.

Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning Rule

If you want to write an intense sci-fi novel, dig deep into what's going on right now in the world of AI and Deep Learning. Check out Baidu, BRAIN, and Andrew Ng. You may actually not believe a word of what you read, but then sit back, think about Hummingbird, and realize that it is all happening. Now. As we type.

We can now teach a computer to recognize cats. (Seriously, what's up with cats + the Interwebs?) Machines have reached 85% accuracy in recognizing sentiments (using Rotten Tomatoes reviews. And you thought those were worthless...) and Google, Apple, and IBM are heavily invested in this. As are China, Japan, and the United States.

Enter the Hummingbird

When I first heard about Hummingbird, I was pretty excited. I'm an armchair linguist who loves language. All language. Any language. So, though no where near an expert, the idea of semantic search made me tingle with glee.


And for two reasons. First, it's incredible to think that we are at a place where we can teach our machines to think like humans.

And because of the corollary to this: humans no longer have to think like machines. And that makes the writer in me weep tears of joy and relief.

Gone are the days where we must stuff keywords into what could have been beautiful prose. Gone are the days where you had to type clunky words into search to try to mimic what you thought the machine could read. On Facebook (another investor in AI) we're getting close to being able to type in "What are my friends' favourite movies?" and get an intelligent answer. And, yes, that is all moving to voice so fast that keyboards will soon seem obsolete.

So it's not just Hummingbird, it's an entire new world out there. And it is moving fast.

Writers, Rejoice!

The bottom line is that things are moving fast, and moving to a world where, if you can communicate like a human with humans, you're in luck. 

A recent article written by Georgina Laidlaw, called Does Bad Grammar Make Bad UX, brought up the decision designers face when making their GUIs (graphical user interfaces) more human. Though she caught a lot of flack in the comments for her misuse and seeming misunderstanding of the word "grammar" I think she hit on the essence of what it is we are doing as we attempt to communicate with humans via machine-based media.

When we face a new medium, we need to work within its framework. We need to be able to bend and flex our writing to be appropriate to the platform we are using. It is absurd to think that we would write or speak in the same way over a beer with friends as we would, say, in a job interview. We would not write the same article for The Economist as we would, say, for People. We have lexicons.

In the best cases, we have tried to put ourselves in the heads of those who will be reading what we write or listening to what we say, and we have changed up what and how we say it to suit them. The best communicators are the best listeners. Period.

And we used to have to filter this through the Machine. Now we don't*. It's awesome.

Business People, Write! (or Hire Someone)

Mark Schaefer at Grow recently wrote about his grandfather, who built his plumbing business based on relationships with neighbours and friends. These people became his clients and remained so based on his relationship with them. "All he had in terms of "marketing" was his reputation for honesty, quality, and reliability." Exactly.

This touches on something that is related to this whole revolution, but just on the edges. What if you aren't a writer? What if you are a business person, who needs to build a reputation for honesty, quality and reliability?

If you can communicate what you feel in your heart, do it. Then hand it over to an editor you trust (Be careful with this. Choose wisely.) and get it cleaned up. Often, with a little coaching, your innate ability to relate to people will translate into written "content" that shouts honesty, quality and reliability. 


* Well, we do still need to filter this through the Machine, but now we can leave this all to our backend people. Writers can write, and programmers can program. Right, Robert Valcourt?

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