Saturday, September 22, 2007

Really how smart are search engines?

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I had asked that question myself several times. I know that Google is a great search engine and it is smart, but exactly how smart? And what about other search engines? Today I decided to conduct a small test to find that out. I chose four popular search engines as the contestants - Google, Yahoo, Windows Live and Ask.com.

Usually, search engines function by matching the searched words or keywords, as it is called, with the pages collected by their web crawlers or spiders and stored in the servers of the search engines. The search engine then displays those pages which matches the keywords. The order of displaying the results depend upon the page rank of the pages which are calculated using complex algorithms. My test would take more than mere matching of keywords. I decided to throw questions at them and see how they answer. I started with a simple question: "When was Catherine Zeta Jones born?". Surprise! Google actually understood the question and correctly answered it just like any human being would answer.



Ask.com was not to be left behind. It too correctly answered the question. It even displayed a picture of the actress along with some helpful suggestions like "Catherine Zeta Jones's age", in the column on the left. Yahoo and Live didn't understood the question at all but did display proper results from Wikipedia and IMDB.



Now that I learned that some search engines are capable of understanding birthdays, I decided to test whether they understood death as well. This time I asked: "Albert Einstein died on?". Google was bang on target. But this time Ask.com failed. Yahoo and Live were clueless.



I tried another question: "What is the 5th letter of the English alphabet?". Surprisingly, only Ask.com displayed the result accurately while Google failed. Yahoo and Live were nowhere near.



Physical and mathematical constants are understood well by Google and Ask.com. But Yahoo and Live are dumb as always. I typed: "Avogadro's number =" and Google and Ask.com did well.



Look what Live brought me.



It's already known that Google has the ability to do mathematical calculation and function just like a calculator. But Google isn't alone. Ask.com and Yahoo can do simple math too.



However, only Google can do math with complex numbers and can do logarithmic and trigonometric calculations. Others fail to handle such calculations. Yahoo, Live and Ask.com all hate math.



It's evident now that Ask.com is a pretty good search engine and if you are looking for an alternative to Google, Ask.com is the one to go for. Just before I started writing this I made a search on Google. "Smart search engines" - I typed. The result was this.



Even Google acknowledges that Ask.com is indeed smart, if not smarter than Google. Interestingly, Google is nowhere in the result.

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