Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Human Search Engine

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Human Search Engine

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Prigg

FOR the man who describes his job as "being in charge of the world's search", Amit Singhal has a simple dream -- to built the Star Trek communicator he saw on his family's black-and-white TV while growing up in India.

Sitting inside Google's vast, sprawling headquarters in Mountain View, Silicon Valley, Amit is, despite 11 years at the search firm, still a man possessed. "I come in like a child in a candy store, I'm jumping up and down because I have this amazing team brimming with new ideas," he says.

"That team is doing such amazing science, and bringing me closer to my childhood dream -- how does it get any better?" Singhal's role at Google is simple -- he is the man in charge of search. When he arrived at the firm 11 years ago, following a spell at AT&T in New York, one of his first jobs was to rewrite the algorithm that powers Google's search engine.

"I came in and said 'I'm a search academic, why don't you let me practise that?' I didn't really read the Google code, and wrote a parallel version, telling them, 'This is how I would do it". That project was adopted as the core of Google's entire operation, and is still powering more than a billion searches carried out every day.

His job now includes overseeing nearconstant updates to the code, continually tweaking it to make life easier for users. "My original algorithm has become a foundation on which we have an even more beautiful building.

"When I built the original foundation it was the best house we knew how to build back then. We soon realised that we could add rooms to the house, we added a new fixture, a basement or other area. Meanwhile we are constantly trying to pull it down and try again, building foundations to try.

"We have the entire web in a sandbox that only our engineers can see, and our engineers can take their new algorithm and see it change millions of queries. If it works, we send it to testers, whom we pay, but we don't tell them what they are testing.

"If the tweaks are still deemed useful they are unleashed into the wild -- but only to some users.

"Then we take a tiny slice, one per cent of our users, and expose them to this change. We measure things such as where on the page they click, when they click higher -- that's good for us.

"That one per cent are not told but it's just an experimental algorithm, and the changes are potentially beneficial, so not hurting the user's experience. …

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