A common problem with looking for things on the Internet is the vast amount of material out there. A student in school has to develop techniques to wade through this mass of information and yet they still miss lots of useful data. Google has been working for years now on how to improve their search technology. They hired Ray Kurzweil, a noted inventor and futurist to help their search engine understand regular speech. The idea is to get it so you can just ask questions like a child would and the search would understand what you are asking about.
Apparently they are making progress on this.
Kurzweil joined the company 18 months ago to lead a project aimed at creating software capable of understanding text as well as humans can. Yesterday, he told the audience that progress on this effort was good, and that it would result in an entirely new way to search the Web and manage information.
“You would interact with it like you would a human assistant,” said Kurzweil. It will be possible to ask a question of the software just as you would if talking to another person, he said; and you could trust that it would return a fully reasoned answer, not just a list of links as Google’s search engine does today. Such a virtual assistant might also take the initiative, Kurzweil said, coming forward when new information had appeared that was related to an earlier query or conversation.
This will have a profound impact on learning if it actually happens. I have speculated for a few years now that the best learning device will always be with you and can answer questions asked in a normal fashion. I believe you can build something like this into a smart toy, so small children can have their questions answered anytime they ask. This sort of technology could enable smart toys to be created.
This will also finally end the role of the teacher as the person with all the answers. Less sage on stage, and more guide on side.
I expect to see this within 5 years.