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'Better search makes people smarter'
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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It was a very controversial sale within Google, because they'd never bought a search engine thing before, and it was kind of contradictory to the way the founders had made search work. Fortunately, there were a few very visionary people in that wanted to buy it, but they didn't actually pay nearly enough for it compared to the value they got out of it. Because as soon as they got it, they also got John Giannandrea, who eventually became head of search at Google. I mean, we used to joke that either... if they bought us, they'll either destroy... they'll just make us go away or we'd take them over. And I think eventually it became a very significant part of the way they did search. And now, when you do a search, you actually do two kinds of searches. You... it spawns the old keyword search, but it also does a semantic search. So it really does find the museums of New York, even if they don't have the words museum or New York on there. And it mixes those in the search results it gives to you. But I think the click-through rates of the semantic searches are actually better than the keyword searches. And I think they're getting better and better all the time. So I love it that I built something that billions of people all over the world use every day.

[Q] Like pinch-to-zoom?

Yes, well that's another one. But that's... so that's a... that's fun and I think it really has made search better and it's made humans smarter, and that is probably the most fundamental thing that you can do because it lifts all boats if you make people smarter. And I think better search makes people smarter.

W Daniel Hillis (b. 1956) is an American inventor, scientist, author and engineer. While doing his doctoral work at MIT under artificial intelligence pioneer, Marvin Minsky, he invented the concept of parallel computers, that is now the basis for most supercomputers. He also co-founded the famous parallel computing company, Thinking Machines, in 1983 which marked a new era in computing. In 1996, Hillis left MIT for California, where he spent time leading Disney’s Imagineers. He developed new technologies and business strategies for Disney's theme parks, television, motion pictures, Internet and consumer product businesses. More recently, Hillis co-founded an engineering and design company, Applied Minds, and several start-ups, among them Applied Proteomics in San Diego, MetaWeb Technologies (acquired by Google) in San Francisco, and his current passion, Applied Invention in Cambridge, MA, which 'partners with clients to create innovative products and services'. He holds over 100 US patents, covering parallel computers, disk arrays, forgery prevention methods, and various electronic and mechanical devices (including a 10,000-year mechanical clock), and has recently moved into working on problems in medicine. In recognition of his work Hillis has won many awards, including the Dan David Prize.

Listeners: George Dyson Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: John Giannandrea

Duration: 2 minutes

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017