Smarter Search Engines

Jessica Love considers the consequences of retooling search engines so they understand complete sentences rather than simply keywords:

Search users (and the advertisers who hope to lure them) won’t be the only ones who benefit from search engines capable of parsing speechlike queries. The science behind search may change how linguists view natural language. For one, linguists may move away from modeling language using formal grammars, Chomskyan or otherwise. “What you end up finding is that the things that people do with language very rarely fit into the formal grammar that you carved out from the outset,” says Mailhot. “The data are what they are and people do what they do and the best strategy is to make inferences based on what people do rather than carve something out ahead of time and shoehorn the data into it.”