New audible answering capability will be available in a few days, according to Google. Meanwhile, test showing Gmail messages in personal search results raises some eyebrows.
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Google soon will be extending voice search capabilities introduced in Android 4.1, code-named Jelly Bean, to iOS devices.
Google has been able to interpret spoken search queries, captured by computer microphones, for years, but it only recently became adept at responding with audible answers following the launch of Android 4.1 in June.
Amit Singhal, Google SVP of search, said in a blog post on Wednesday that the company's new Voice Search capability soon will be available on iOS devices. "Soon," in this case, is supposed to mean a few days.
Google Search responds to spoken queries submitted through mobile devices with its traditional search results list unless it can determine that the question has a definitive answer. When Google calculates that it knows the answer to a query, it will respond with a computer-generated voice, which might be more convenient for users asking questions via mobile phones.
Google's improved question answering capabilities arise from what it calls the Knowledge Graph, a technology derived from the company's 2010 acquisition of Metaweb's Freebase database.
Google introduced the Knowledge Graph in May as a way to help the company's search engine understand queries better and to present users with more information related to queries. Singhal says that the Knowledge Graph, previously available only in the U.S., is now available in all English-speaking countries.
Singhal also announced an additional search improvement likely to pique the interest of privacy advocates and security researchers: Google has launched a limited field trial that adds users' stored Gmail messages to the body of data Google scours when attempting to return relevant search results. Users who sign up for the trial and enter Google Search queries will see links to relevant Gmail messages alongside traditional search results when signed in to their Google Accounts.
In theory, this should be perfectly safe, because Google isn't indexing the messages for public searches. Google already provides a Gmail search box that only searches Gmail messages and that hasn't led to problems.
Seeing Gmail messages listed on Google search results pages isn't much different than seeing the personal search results from services such as Google+ that Google has been injecting to an area once reserved for organic search results and sponsored ads.
But the blurring of traditionally private space--Gmail--with an interface for the presentation of public Web links--search results—might still prompt uneasiness. Ultimately, it might not be a bad idea to hang back and let others stumble across any unexpected security issues.
As Jeremiah Grossman, CTO and founder of WhiteHat Security, quipped on Twitter about the inclusion of Gmail messages in search results, "The hacker in me likes this idea."
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