back to article Google claims web search will be 10% better for English speakers – with the help of AI

Google has updated its search algorithms to tap into an AI language model that is better at understanding netizens' queries than previous systems. Pandu Nayak, a Google fellow and vice president of search, announced this month that the Chocolate Factory has rolled out BERT, short for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from …

  1. big_D Silver badge

    The proof of the pudding will be when it starts actually returning pertinent results and not shopping recommendations, when you enter a named product.

    Searching for "named-product handbook", "named-product error number n" etc. usually returns a dozen shopping results, before pertinent results are returned. If I'm searching for help with a product, I've probably already bought it, or I am in no mood to buy another one!

    1. katrinab Silver badge

      Or, in some cases, I'm looking for technical information to inform my purchasing decision. Adverts linking to a page that is open in the adjacent tab on my browser are not very helpful.

  2. Mike Shepherd


    Google could improve the quality of results 80% just by excluding those which don't match the search. Instead, the user is left to judge the point where Google ran out of ideas and should have stopped, but didn't.

    1. RogerT

      Re: 10%?

      My very thought. Google have made it very difficult to find the obscure.

    2. Venerable and Fragrant Wind of Change

      Re: 10%?

      If google were that bad, they'd have no search market left. As they have always known, their business relies on a core search offering that people choose to use. They don't always get it right, but they'll certainly do their best to [satisfy their users|hold on to their core market][1,2].

      [1] Pick either or both of these aspects of the same thing.

      [2] Bear in mind those users include some very tech-savvy folks such as Apple and the Linux distros who set defaults for large numbers of end-users.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: 10%?

        As the EU browser ballot choice screen showed, people often don't know about the alternatives and, when given the chance to try them, they quite like them.

        1. katrinab Silver badge

          Re: 10%?

          However, Bing is the default search engine on most computers out of the box. People do change that to Google.

          1. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: 10%?

            Not true. Bing is the default on Windows, in a Microsoft browser. If people use a different browser, then Google is almost certainly the default. Most people didn't actively choose a different search engine; they actively chose a different browser. Some people didn't actively choose anything, as Google pushed Chrome with something else and set it as the default. Try going to an average set of Windows machines and seeing what the OS internal websearch system is using. You can set that to Google, but nobody does because they don't care about that search box. If they choose to use Chrome or Google search, that's fine, but know that there is quite a lot of sticking with the status quo behind market share figures.

      2. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: 10%?

        For most users Google = search, and search = Google. Even if Google's results were totally wrong or irrelevant, people will keep using it for quite a while, at least until some other search engine makes a similarly strong name for itself.

        I've seen people (of higher education, just not very computer-savvy) use their browser's integrated Google search box to search for the Google search website, so they can type in their actual search: Nothing less than the iconic white page with the "Google" logo will do. When asked why, they explain they just wanted to search something - How else would they do it?

        Google search isn't in any danger. The select few who know there are other search options and are willing to use them are nearly irrelevant to their bottom line. Meaning they don't have to make any effort and can happily keep selling result placements while announcing cosmetic changes to keep the buzz going (everybody needs some AI nowadays).

        1. katrinab Silver badge

          Re: 10%?

          I've seen people use Bing to search for Google, and then Google to search for what they actually want.

          I see their first result is

          "Promoted by Microsoft: Why go there when you can search here?"

          [You can search right here. Try it o\]

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: 10%?

          I've seen people (of higher education, just not very computer-savvy) use their browser's integrated Google search box to search for the Google search website, so they can type in their actual search

          That would be my wife...

        3. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. JohnFen

        Re: 10%?

        One would think, but Google search isn't good. At best, it's mediocre.

        1. Il'Geller

          Re: 10%?

          The search you want assumes that all patterns are indexed and can be easily found. Google has proven that with AI indexing (by dictionary definitions) technology it's possible! Please see the results obtained by Google when working with its "quantum" computer?

          Such the search is possible as well if search queries are expanded from one-three-very-few words to several hundred and thousands of patterns. The same AI technology, due to annotations by dictionary definitions and the creation of synonymous clusters, does this. See the results obtained by Google when working with its "quantum" computer?

          1. JohnFen

            Re: 10%?

            "Google has proven that with AI indexing (by dictionary definitions) technology it's possible!"

            Given that Google search has become significantly impaired, I don't see how they've proven that at all.

            1. Il'Geller

              Re: 10%?

              “A computation that would take 10,000 years on a classical supercomputer took 200 seconds on our quantum computer,” says Brooks Foxen, a graduate student researcher who works with John Martinis of the University of California, Santa Barbara and Google.


              Annotating by dictionary definitions - this is my speculation! I do not know but guess - Google can reduce a pattern's context to a very small number of unique addresses (very few, 1-3, bytes). That is, each pattern (and its synonymous cluster) is assigned by a unique address, which can be found instantly.

              Then Google may well get rid of lexical noise and instantly give a very small number of correct results. For example 10-20, instead of tens and hundreds millions. Indeed, the uniqueness of the annotated patterns allows THIS to be done.

            2. Il'Geller

              Google search results will be disproportionately better soon.

              I'm sorry, let me explain what the above explanations have to do with yesterday's changes in Google's algorithm? The fact is that Google

              - either should change its business model and allow us to own our profiles (create them ourselves at our devices),

              - and allow owners of information (ads, websites, documents, posts, etc.) to profile their property by themselves,

              - or profile everything using AI-indexing technology and Google quantum computer.

              If Google decides to allow us to have everything - Google instantly goes out of business, because why should we pay it?

              Therefore, Google has made a bet on its quantum computer and AI-indexing, because this is the only option left. Since AI indexing is used, as a consequence Google search results will be disproportionately better soon.

              1. JohnFen

                Re: Google search results will be disproportionately better soon.

                "Google search results will be disproportionately better soon."

                Ah, an actual prediction that can be tested! We'll just have to wait and see. My prediction is that Google search results won't get substantially better as long as they are pursuing this "search by mindreading" strategy.

    3. Coen Dijkgraaf

      Re: 10%?

      It used to be that Google would only return results with all the words, but they changed that to be a lot more lose.

      It does provide links under the results of "Must include x" and if you click on it, it will put that word with quotes around it. You can also manually add quotes around either words or phrases, and then it will search for exact matches.

      1. JohnFen

        Re: 10%?

        Oddly, though, if you actually do that you'll still get results that don't include your "must include" terms.

  3. Chris G Silver badge


    Is being assisted by his wife DORIS: Dynamic Optimisation of Resale with Impractical Suggestions.

    Google searches seem to always include some Amazon, Sears or Walmart etc links that don't have what you sre looking for, just in the hope that while you are there you might buy something else.

    The weird thing is the search can be for something esoteric but still produce results for a potential sale.

    1. sbt Silver badge

      Why not ERNIE?

      Not the wife, the best friend; Extrapolation of Related but Non-Interesting Esoterica.

      1. poohbear

        Re: Why not ERNIE?

        If it starts with E it must be ELIZA

  4. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Google AI does a Bart with a BERT Eat My Shorts.

    What can possibly go wrong .... now that a this can be a that and many other things quite different too if there be a mind to explore the opportunities?

    Nice one, Google AI/BERT ...... more reams and realms of information to be processed and squirrelled away whenever extraordinarily rendered or suddenly found to be extremely sensitive and disruptive intelligence.

    You do know the true name of the search game is to find all of the information that has been freely shared for global acceptance and concept recognition but which then suddenly may disappear for a while and/or become protected or infected with a Top Secret Non Disclosure Agreement classification?

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Google AI does a Bart with a BERT Eat My Shorts.

      You know much of what disappears or acquires a Top Secret Non Disclosure Agreement classification, is to protect the children.

      The children of Mammon.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Google AI does Shorts.

      "You do know the true name of... ...classification"

      - not ab initio, but probably have known such. looks like a sector of military secrecy is no more the top cherry on the rock, doc

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: Google AI does Shorts.

        looks like a sector of military secrecy is no more the top cherry on the rock, doc ..... Anonymous Coward

        Sure does, AC. Do MODs/DODs know and accept that uncomfortable and inconvenient for them fact? Or are they stuck and struck deaf, dumb and blind in a petrified terrifying denial of new ways of doing all greater things?

  5. -tim

    A change in direction?

    So will it get back to at least the level it was 5 years ago?

  6. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    In other words

    Their AI will just fill your screen with more non relevant adverts because those companies have paid Google loadsamoney to boost their SEO rankings even higher.

    I wonder if there will be a new class of SEO subscription... Click here for an extra 10% AI boost !...

    As has been said, can we have the google from 5 or even 10 years ago back. They were far less focussed on ad slinging then.

    Don't use Google so this AI stuff is rather moot. I'd question if it is truly AI or just some glorified DSS. Probably the latter.

    1. LateAgain

      Re: In other words

      SEO is evil

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: In other words

        "I'd question if it is truly AI or just some glorified DSS. Probably the latter."

        From what they've said, it fits the standard definition of AI, being based on a neural network rather than just a large set of rules. But that doesn't necessarily mean the large amount of different ways a sentence could be read will matter at all to the accuracy of search results. The fact that their own demonstration test case didn't hold after they release indicates that it's probably not as reliable or useful as they would like to believe.

        This type of analysis, if it worked, would be very helpful. There are various things that cannot be easily phrased without using word positioning and prepositions. Quite frequently, searches I perform fall into this by being in the format "A without B", as I know I'm going to get a lot of articles about A with B, which is how I got desperate enough to try phrasing a search to get things without B in the first place. But I somehow doubt that this will solve that problem.

        1. JohnFen

          Re: In other words

          " the standard definition of AI, being based on a neural network rather than just a large set of rules."

          Wait, that's the standard definition of "AI" now? That drains the term of most real meaning.

  7. Rich 2 Silver badge


    Forget the AI nonsense. I'd be happy if Google actually returned results for what you asked for! Rather than returning nonsense results for Amazon and Wikipedia (no, I don't want to buy a "moon" from Amazon!). And I'd be happy (er) if it actually searched for an exact phrase if you ask it (you know - like it used to do about 10 years ago), and didn't return results for totally unrelated crap.

    Basically, if Google would re-install the search algorithms they had about 15 years ago, that would go a very long way to fixing things. As it is, Google's search results are absolute crap these days.

    And why is every bit of software "AI" these days? It's NOT @#%$ing "AI". AI, in any meaningful sense, doesn't exist yet (if it ever will). It might be clever (or in the case of Google's search engine, it will undoubtedly make it even worse), but it's not bloody AI. There's absolutely NOTHING "intelligent" going on.,

    Ok. Rant over...

    ....and relax... 1... 2... 3... 4...

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: Bollocks

      I suspect 10 year-old algorithms would be completed owned by a modern SEO website.

      And you can search for an exact phrase by putting it in quotes.

      1. Rich 2 Silver badge

        Re: Bollocks

        "And you can search for an exact phrase by putting it in quotes"

        You USED to be able to do that in the good 'ol days. But have you tried it? It just doesn't work

      2. JohnFen

        Re: Bollocks

        Searching by exact phrase appears to have been broken for a long time. Also, that's not a sufficient solution -- that would only work if you're trying to find an exact phrase. I suspect that all Google really needs to do to improve search results is:

        1) Have a way to make Google stop "inferring" what I'm looking for and just take my search terms at their word.

        2) Bring back the search term modifiers such as "must have" and "must not have".

  8. Just Saying 132

    Let's call it 90%

    What the heck is your metric for 10% better? This is just the digital equivalent of "new and improved" which is rarely either. Just call it 90% and call it a win because those that know know it's all bullshit and those that don't will be totally impressed by the effort. (My guess is they make a slight modification to the font and its color and proclaim victory. (Oh yeah, don't forget more relevant ads.))

    Here's a tip, Google. When I'm at work searching for an electronic component, and I know the manufacturer's part number and type it in, the first result should be the manufacturer's website, hell, even the product page and not and endless list of where I can't buy the part or sketchy websites where I can download out of date datasheets and a lovely virus/malware to boot!

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: Let's call it 90%

      I don't know what it is, but I imagine Google (of all people) do have a metric for that.

      Something like "if the user clicks on at least one of the first page of results, and then doesn't return to the results, or enter a related query, within X hours - that's a 'successful search'". I'm sure it's not that simple, but I imagine that's the basic idea.

      1. JohnFen

        Re: Let's call it 90%

        I imagine that they do as well, but unless they actually tell us what that metric is, saying things like "10%" better is meaningless.

  9. JohnFen

    10% better compared to what?

    Considering that, in my experience, Google search is half as good as it used to be (at best), making it 10% better from recent behavior still keeps it in the "worse" category.

    But I'm not really buying the 10% thing at all anyway.

  10. Alex Read

    I'm failing here to see how, in any outcome "2019 brazil traveler to usa need a visa" could be taken as to mean a serch term "from usa" or "to brazil"

    1. Snowy Silver badge

      Also not very good English they seemed to have missed out a "do" and an "in" and the order is wrong. Also what is a brazil traveler, a native of brazil or someone transiting through?

      Assuming it was a Brazilian the search in English would be "Do Brazilians need a visa to travel to the Usa in 2019"

  11. jelabarre59


    The Register asked Google about this, and a spokesperson told us... the screenshots were just a *RIGGED* demo.

    There, FTFY.

  12. Tail Up

    WTF sources: before - wash*, after - US Embassy.

    AI? What AI??

  13. jelabarre59

    Shades of Sgt Pepper

    I'm put in mind of the lyric from The Beatles' "Getting Better"...

    "I've got to admit it's getting better (Better)

    A little better all the time (It can't get no worse)"

    1. JohnFen

      Re: Shades of Sgt Pepper

      "A little better all the time (It can't get no worse)"

      Google says "oh? Hold my beer..."

  14. fobobob

    Keyword Search

    While all of these new fancy things are cool, a basic keyword search mode would frequently be ideal.

  15. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge


    Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers


    Encorder Representations oNly In English

  16. Aussie Doc Bronze badge

    Be careful!

    Whatever you do, don't type Google into Google.

    We all know what could happen.

  17. Draco

    How is this measurable?

    "Better" is not a quantitative term. Prefacing it with 10% doesn't make it any more quantitative.

    Methinks, "10% better" means 10% more ad click through.

  18. Mike 137 Silver badge

    In the beginning...

    a couple of decades back Google (and the other then extant search engines) had the option of using Boolean operators to specify exactly what should be present in the returned results. But that limited the results to exactly what we were looking for, which is a poor business model for a click broker. Google search is not there to help you find stuff. It's there to make you click on links that earn Google revenue. Consequently the high up presence of click bait is part of the purpose. Why d'you think it's "free"?

    1. JohnFen

      Re: In the beginning...


      Google made its search service worse in order to goose profits. That's why Google search has become, at best, no better than the alternatives.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021