Six searches that show the power of Google

  • 26 April 2016
  • From the section Magazine
google search with magnifying glass Image copyright Alamy

There is a word that you never heard anyone use 20 years ago. But today, according to research from Lancaster University, which examined millions of words of casual conversation, it crops up more frequently than "clever", "eggs", "fridge", or "death". That word is Google.

To search is to Google, to Google is to search.

"Google is considered to be a synonym for search," says Danny Sullivan of "People talk about Googling things - it has become that dominant, both in usage and in the mindshare [the measure of consumer awareness]."

With more than 90% of the market in much of the world, Google's dominance in the vital and lucrative business of searching the internet is clear. But does its mysterious and ever-changing search algorithm have too much power? Does this one force exert excessive influence over the information we all access, the success or failure of businesses, the reputation of individuals and even which political ideas triumph?

That is what we have been exploring in a programme for Radio 4. In the course of making the programme one tool proved invaluable - a Google search. So let's look at the power of Google via six searches.

Search 1: How does Google search work?

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Rise of the Robots - and Donald Trump

Robot Image copyright iStock

Over the past year we have seen plenty of warnings about the potential impact of robots and artificial intelligence on jobs.

Now one of the leading prophets of this robot revolution has told the BBC he is already seeing another side-effect of automation - the rise of politicians such as Donald Trump and the Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.

Read full article Rise of the Robots - and Donald Trump

Powa failure - where did the money go?

Promotional picture for Powa Technologies Image copyright Powa Technologies
Image caption Powa offered a mobile payment system but collapsed owing millions

Last month I wrote about the collapse of the UK tech "unicorn" Powa Technologies, a firm I called a textbook example of how not to run a business. Back then it was hard to see how Powa had run through so much money so quickly - but now a report from the administrators has provided some clarity.

Deloitte was appointed in February by Powa's main backers Wellington Management after the firm failed to repay the money it owed the Boston-based firm. The administrators have to produce a report which covers the measures they have taken to recover any money for creditors - and what they found out about the state of the business.

Read full article Powa failure - where did the money go?

Meetings with Amy - and other bots

Robot with headset Image copyright iStock

In more than 30 years in the BBC I have never had a personal assistant, or anyone to help fix my busy schedule (extraordinary, I know). But this week I took on a PA with a specific brief to organise my meetings. She's called Amy Ingram, and I regret to say her work so far leaves a little to be desired. But then again she is a virtual assistant, or bot.

Amy is the product of two years of work by a New York based artificial intelligence start-up called Its co-founder and chief executive Dennis Mortensen tells Tech Tent in an interview for this afternoon's programme that the idea was to prove that artificial intelligence could now handle a single useful task. "We've reached this inflection point where AI can do very specific jobs," he explains. "They can't do everything but if you have one very well-defined job you want done you can give it to the agent and they can do that for you,"

Read full article Meetings with Amy - and other bots

Drone racing - sport of the future?

Media captionDrone races will soon be broadcast on ESPN's TV network

At Wembley last night I experienced what could be the sport of the future. Tiny drones raced out of the players' tunnel and did three laps of the stadium, weaving their way through a slalom course.

The races were hard fought and - according to the commentators - full of thrills and spills.

Read full article Drone racing - sport of the future?

Amazon Kindle Oasis: Does the world want a £270 e-reader?

Amazon Oasis
Image caption Amazon says the Oasis is 20% lighter and 30% thinner than any of its earlier Kindles

It has a good claim to being the most daring and innovative technology company of the last 20 years. It has launched at least two world-changing businesses - an online retailer of breathtaking scale and efficiency and a cloud computing service that has changed the way thousands of businesses work. But why on Earth is Amazon launching another Kindle, and who on Earth is going to pay £270 for it?

That was what came into my head as a group of Amazon executives showed me their latest e-reader this week. I'd come to the warehouse in Hoxton - London's Hipster Central, where Amazon's fashion division is based - on the promise of learning about the tech firm's next giant leap forward. I'd rather hoped to hear that the Echo, a fascinating product which puts a virtual assistant inside a speaker, was coming to the UK.

Read full article Amazon Kindle Oasis: Does the world want a £270 e-reader?

UK hits broadband target… maybe

Broadband router and cable Image copyright PA

Good news on broadband - the UK has hit the target of making a superfast connection available to 90% of homes, as promised back in 2010. But the bad news is that the world has moved on since then, and this achievement won't have anyone cracking open the champagne.

The target was set in 2010 in the early months of the coalition government and came with a pledge that the UK would have "the best superfast broadband in Europe" by 2015. Both aims were later modified as the process of handing over subsidies to BT for rolling out fibre connections in rural areas took longer than expected - 90% by 2015 turned into 95% by 2017 and "best in Europe" turned out to involve a scorecard comparing us on various measures with the larger European countries.

Read full article UK hits broadband target… maybe

WhatsApp and the backdoor battle

Whatsapp icon on a phone Image copyright Getty Images

If you've used the messaging app WhatsApp today you should have seen a message saying this: "Messages you send to this chat and calls are secured with end-to-end encryption."

What that means is nobody - not the police, hackers, GCHQ, not even WhatsApp or its owner Facebook - can read the conversations between you and your contacts.

Read full article WhatsApp and the backdoor battle

Are electric cars ready to go mainstream?

Tesla Model 3 cars Image copyright Tesla
Image caption Tesla's Model 3 will determine the company's fortunes

Back in January, I visited the Tesla Design Studio in Hawthorne, California, to interview the firm's founder and chief executive, Elon Musk.

The design team were welcoming, but nervous about what we filmed - and in the background, as we sat down for the interview, were a number of cars draped in black sheets.

Read full article Are electric cars ready to go mainstream?

Can the Micro Bit inspire a million?

Media captionPop rock group The Vamps help launch the Micro Bit mini-computer

It was last May that the BBC unveiled an ambitious plan to give a million schoolchildren a tiny device designed to inspire them to get coding. Now, after a few bumps in the road, the Micro Bits are finally ending up in the hands of children.

The tiny device can be plugged into a computer and programmed to do all sorts of cool stuff, and Year Seven pupils across the UK are being told it is theirs to take home.

Read full article Can the Micro Bit inspire a million?