Twenty years from now, Google won't just give you what you're looking for. It could know what you want before you know it yourself.
That's according to Marissa Mayer, Google's 20th hire and the company's vice president of local, maps and location services, who said that over the next two decades Google will attempt to refine its ability to "predict and suggest" answers for its users, perhaps before they've even asked a question.
"I think that there's a world that we can move into where can we do a different kind of search that's more futuristically oriented for a person," Mayer said during an event at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, where Bloomberg Businessweek's editor Josh Tyrangiel interviewed the Google executive. "Can we predict what restaurants you’ll like when you're in a new city? It may not be that you search for pizza, but we know you tend to like pizza places, or you tend to like more casual, loungey bars, so we can suggest things."
Mayer noted that Google could eventually help connect people to strangers they don't know, but should meet, given their interests.
"On the social front, can we suggest someone that we think that you should know because you have so much in common that we think you'd like each other?" Mayer said. "Can we take search and start to move it into other domains because the same core competencies apply in terms of helping people find places that they'll like, more than those they would otherwise have found through a rote 'I asked you for this, give me that'?"
Google's experiments with self-driving cars could offer clues into the future of its search offerings.
"A lot of people ask us what driverless cars have to do with Google, and the truth is, when you're driving a car, you're getting 400 different inputs," Mayer said. "Figuring out the right input and integrating that into the appropriate driving behavior is just a search problem and just a way of integrating an answer."
"You'll see us moving into things like that," Mayer added cryptically.
Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt previously hinted at Google's plans to develop products that could anticipate users' needs based on their past behavior.
"I actually think most people don't want Google to answer their questions. They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next," Schmidt said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that sparked criticism from privacy advocates.
Asked whether Google performs a "spooky sniff test" on its products to assess whether they're helpful or creepy, Mayer responded that Google tries to assess whether the utility of a feature properly offsets the privacy that users must give up in order to take advantage of the tool.
"All along the way Googlers have been really good at calling each other out, not necessarily on the spooky factor, but asking, 'Does this make sense? Given the amount of privacy or information a user has to give us in order for us to provide this service, is the service beneficial enough?'" Mayer said.
Mayer briefly reflected on the ways Google has changed since co-founder Larry Page replaced Schmidt as CEO in 2011, noting that Page's emphasis on streamlining Google's product line has made the company's thousands of employees focused on how -- and if -- a tool adequately fulfills users' needs.
"Larry is very focused on product and on users, and I think that you can feel that," Mayer said. "Having a CEO in a more product-oriented role ultimately makes everyone think about what they're building and whether it is beautiful, it's excellent, and it's a seamless user experience."
Read more on Mayer's remarks, including her career advice and her explanation for how Google "stumbled into" its homepage design, here and here.