This archive file was compiled from an interview conducted at the Googleplex in Mountain View, California, 2013.
As late as the 1980s and the 1990s, the common person seeking stored knowledge would likely be faced with using an 18th century technology — the library index card catalogue — in order to find something on the topic he or she was looking for. Fifteen years later, most people would be able to search, at any time and any place, a collection of information that dwarfed that of any library. And unlike the experience with a library card catalogue, this new technology rarely left the user empty-handed.
Information retrieval had been a core technology of humanity since written language — but as an actual area of research it was so niche that before the 1950s, nobody had bothered to give the field a name. From a superficial perspective, the pioneering work in the area during the 1940s and 50s seemed to suggest it would be monumentally important to the future — but only behind the scenes. Information retrieval was to be the secret tool of the nation at war, or of the elite scientist compiling massive amounts of data. Increasingly however, a visionary group of thinkers dreamed of combining information retrieval and the ‘thinking machine’ to create something which would be far more revolutionary for society.
In the case of Google’s Amit Singhal, it was a childhood encounter with a visionary work that gave him his initial fascination with the dream of the thinking machine — a fascination that would result in his evolution to be one of the individuals who began to transform the dream into a reality. The work that he encountered was not that of a scientific pioneer such as Alan Turing or Marvin Minsky — it was a visionary work of pop culture.
More about Amit Singhal: