How Powerset Promises to Tackle Google

Dennis Faas's picture

Has someone found Google's kryptonite?

Dozens of small start-up companies were on hand at a recent high-tech convention with each looking to impress a crowd of influential representatives interested in securing the services of one lucky company.  Also milling about were consumers looking to grab a sneak peak at the latest technological craze.

Of all the entrepreneurs in attendance, one particular company made the most impact in the form of a verbal announcement that sounded more like a promise than an aspiration. The company pledged that they now held the secret to defeating Google at their own game by offering better search engine capabilities. (Source:

The company, Powerset, remains a virtual unknown in the field of technological research. Rumors abound that the company has worked in secret for the better part of two years attempting to devise "natural language" technology that would make it much easier to communicate with established search engines.

As was revealed at the convention, Powerset uses algorithms that are programmed to understand search requests that are typed in plain English. If successful, the technology could potentially eliminate the standard "keyword" system that is currently being used by Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other major search engines. While seemingly unimportant, the difference between plain English and keyword English would ensure much more meaningful results. Instead of having to write fragmented, ungrammatical words, users would be able to type out clear full-length questions.

In a move that is widely being considered a tongue-and-cheek calling out of Google, Barney Pell, co-founder of Powerset, compares the hit-and-miss practice of searching using keywords with talking to a two-year-old: "At times you are happy that it can understand English at all and other times you wish it would grow and expand so that you can hold a real conversation with it." (Source:

While this is not the first time a search engine has tried to understand simple English, Powerset has drawn more attention because its natural-language technology is being backed by the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). PARC is a Xerox subsidiary that is synonymous with new innovations. The computer mouse and graphical interfaces found on most personal computers are just some of the things PARC has produced. (Source:

Many are waiting to see if Powerset will soon fizzle out or grow to be a major impact player in the years to come.

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