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Google Instant Makes Search Psychic

The company's accelerated search service represents a 'quantum leap' in search, according to VP of search products and user experience Marissa Mayer.

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In a darkened theater at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday, Google demonstrated Google Instant, a reinvention of the online search experience that delivers search results as the user types.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt alluded to Google Instant at the IFA trade show in Berlin, Germany, earlier this week, when he said, "Never underestimate the importance of fast."

Fast has been Google's watchword for years because speed tends to mean user satisfaction. Google Instant represents the company's latest effort to accelerate search to the point of prediction: Google is presenting search results before the user has completely entered a query.

In 2000, psychic search was a joke. One of Google's April Fool's gags that year was the introduction of Google MentalPlex, "the only search engine that accurately returns results without requiring you to enter a query."

Nowadays, it's not a laughing matter. Google VP of search products and user experience Marissa Mayer may have been speaking in jest when she described Google Instant by saying, "There's actually a psychic element to it." But Google can divine a user's intent from a few typed letters more reliably than fortune telling hucksters. Google's store of data has become so vast that mysticism is now the most convenient metaphor to understand search science.

"It's not quite psychic," conceded Othar Hansson, senior staff software engineer at Google. "But it is very clever."

Google searches have always been fast, with results appearing in less than a quarter of a second. But the company is looking to reduce the overall average time it takes to enter a query and receive an answer. To do so, Google Instant tries to guess the user's query as each letter is entered.

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