Some people read tea leaves to predict the future. Stephen Arnold reads Google patents, and right now he's focusing his attention on United States Patent 7,027,987 voice interface for a search engine.
Arnold, a Google expert who has written a book on the search leader, believes the patent is a roadmap to Google's future in voice search applications. He said the patent reveals that the company has plans to use voice search across the board for a wide variety of devices big and small and for an equally wide swath of applications ranging from voice-to-text products to a variety of telecommunications uses.
"Google is optimizing voice search to run on Google's data centers," said Arnold in an interview Friday. "There's no limit to how they can scale it. They can embed the function on mobile phones, on browsers, on chips, and even on big mainframes. It's entirely device independent."
Google co-founder Sergey Brin has his name on the patent, which Arnold said is important because the Google executive would likely want to be associated with research that has an important future. The other Google employees whose names are on the patent as inventors are Alexander Mark Franz, Monika H. Henzinger, and Brian Christopher Milch.
While the patent is replete with arcane vocabulary and schematics concerning voice-processing technology, it also has sections that clearly discuss the future. "The client devices may include devices such as mainframes, minicomputers, personal computers, laptops, personal digital assistants, telephones, or the like, capable of connecting to the network," the patent states. "The client devices may transmit data over the network or receive data from the network via a wired, wireless, or optical connection."
Arnold said the Googleplex -- hundreds of thousands of processors scattered throughout Google's data centers -- plays a central role in the forthcoming voice search functions. Because of the power of Google's data centers, other search competitors will find it difficult to duplicate Google's voice search applications, he argued.
"Processing voice is computationally intensive," said Arnold. "The new fast processors and fast RAM are the reason the patent opens the door to do voice searches. Google now has the machine -- its data centers -- to run voice. It will likely be a network-delivered service that can be used by any device with a microphone. You won't have to install anything."
Arnold said it doesn't take much imagination to see that Google voice search applications could operate seamlessly with many Google applications like GoogleTalk, Google Calendar, or Google Docs. Google users should be able to use the voice functions to quickly turn voice into text on Gmail and even to translate simultaneously among different foreign languages. "The patent opens the door for easy spoken translation in real time," Arnold said.
What about competitors like Microsoft and Yahoo, both of which have introduced voice search applications? Arnold said Microsoft's and Yahoo's voice search can be worthwhile applications, but they won't be able to scale well. "One of Google's big secrets is that it scales well," said Arnold.
Last week Google announced a free voice beta called Google Voice Local Search, which is a telephone information service. Arnold referred to the effort as "Google baby steps," but he sees it as pointing the way for the company's future in voice search.
Users call 1-800-GOOG-411 to search for business titles. Some calls are connected to Google's maps database.