Google used to tell you how to do something. Now, it’ll just do it for you.
In the last week, the company has added two small but important features to their famous search bar. You can type “find my phone” and Google will locate it on a map (and offer to call it); you can also type “send directions” and an interface will appear to beam directions to your phone.
No, neither of these functions is going to change the world overnight–especially as you’ll need an Android phone connected to your Google account for them to appear. But when you place them next to previously added mobile features–like being able to ID a song, set an alarm, or create a reminder using the search bar–and look at them in the context of the last 16 years of Google search, it feels a lot more like the evolution of search interface than a pair of random features.
Search Has Been Evolving
When Google launched, you’d type your query into the search box, and the engine would list an endless stream of links–what you might call, possible answers.
Google got better and better at this. It learned to recognize questions posed in your natural language rather than the verbal programming of Boolean logic, and later, the search engine became prescient enough to complete the question you were about to ask while you typed it.
Along the way, they also improved at pulling answers from their own pile of links. So now, when you ask Google a simple question like “how many miles is it to the Moon,” it’ll place the answer on an index card at the top of the search results page, no clicking into links required.
Questions Are Becoming Commands
Now, with these two new updates, Google is shifting its role from providing an answer to providing a solution. The user no longer asks a question, only to be ferried to the equivalent of a user manual. We give a command. We tell the machine to “find” that phone or “send” those directions. And inside Google’s plain white search box, there’s no Siri or Cortana voice sassing us for bossing the machine around like our slave.
Obviously, what Google can do within this language today is still severely limited. We can tell Google to “knit a scarf” all we want, but the company has invested less in loom technologies than they have digital maps. But what’s stopping Google from forging a few corporate partnerships, then mixing in everything else it knows about our lives and tastes, to “deliver me a pizza” or “get my oil checked” or “pay my electric bill” or “add 1% to my 401K contributions.” There are so many possibilities, and Google hasn’t even given us the robots yet.
The new Google is happy to be your slave. But there’s a tradeoff. With every added convenience, we become more and more reliant on the company. And it will beg the question, is it Google that’s working for us, or all of us that are working for Google?