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Google search adds touch of mind reading

Enhanced service offers path before query is completed

Google executives let guests and reporters try out the search engine’s instant results feature yesterday in San Francisco. Google executives let guests and reporters try out the search engine’s instant results feature yesterday in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
By Michael Liedtke
Associated Press / September 9, 2010

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SAN FRANCISCO — Google Inc. stepped on its Internet search accelerator yesterday by adding a feature that displays results as soon as people begin typing their requests.

The change, called “Google Instant,’’ is the closest the 12-year-old company has come to realizing its founders’ ambition to build a search engine that reads its users’ minds.

The achievement wasn’t lost on Google cofounder Sergey Brin, who jokingly told reporters that the company’s lightning-quick computers are morphing into the “other third’’ of people’s brains.

“It’s a little bit of a new dawn in computing,’’ Brin said.

The shift means Google users will begin to see an ever-evolving set of search results appearing on their screens, potentially changing with each additional character typed. That means a satisfactory set of results could take just one keystroke. For example, a person who types “w’’ in Google’s search box could see the weather results in the same area as where the request was entered.

Google will also try to predict what a person wants by filling out the anticipated search terms in gray letters. Below that, in a drop-down box, Google will still offer other suggested search requests, as the site has been offering for the past two years.

The feature will be gradually rolled out throughout the United States this week and will be offered in other parts of the world later this year. It’s designed to work on the latest versions of the major Web browsers.

The instant results will be displayed only on Google’s standard website, which features little more than its logo and a search box. They won’t be shown to users making requests on individually designed “iGoogle’’ pages that are usually already covered with different decorations and programs plugged into other online services. People who don’t want to see instant results can turn them off by clicking on a link next to the search box.

To minimize the chances of offending people or inadvertently exposing children to inappropriate material, Google has programmed the instant results to block websites deemed to be pornographic, violent, or hateful. That restriction may trigger complaints that Google is stifling freedom of expression or unfairly screening out some sites.

With the new instant feature, Google expects to reduce the time spent on search by two to five seconds per request, collectively saving its more than 1 billion weekly users about 350 million hours annually.