Amit Singhal

Software Engineer, Google

Mountain View, CA

Born in Jhansi (Uttar Pradesh), Amit Singhal is truly one of the brightest minds in the world. Singhal grew up in the hills of the Himalayas and having completed his bachelor of engineering in computer science from Indian Institute of Technology (Roorkee) in 1989, he continued his education in the United States. He received his master’s degree from University of Minnesota (Duluth) in 1991, before completing his PhD. at Cornell University in 1996.

It was while studying in America that Singhal found his true calling – Information Retrieval – the concept of disseminating recorded and stored data through a computerized system, as defined by Merriam-Webster. At Cornell, he extensively studied this subject with Gerard Salton, a pioneer and leading expert in the field.

His PhD. thesis, “Term weighting revisited”, is a marvel in itself, showing incredible insight into IR and what solutions can be implemented to make such systems more effective, accurate and responsive.

Singhal joined AT&T Labs (formerly a part of Bell Labs) after his time at Cornell, before being persuaded by a close friend to join Google. As the 176th employee and principal scientist at Google, Singhal completely transformed Google’s web-search engine. He rewrote some of the initial breakthrough search algorithms written by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google co-founders, which is a terrific testament to the faith instilled in him.

Back then Google was one of the many search engines, but Singhal’s ideas and innovations separated Google from the rest. The quality and precision emphasized by Singhal have made ‘Google’ the go-to outlet. Moreover, Singhal recognized the financial profitability in curating such a search engine. He developed tools for online advertising, allowing advertisers to compete for ads based on keyword-searches. ‘Google AdWords’, as it is known today, is one of the largest sources of income for Google.

Singhal has continued his search for “what’s beyond the horizon”. Acknowledging the ever-changing industry and the switch from desktop computers to handheld, he has pivoted to conquering these unprecedented challenges. This fundamental shift rendered Google’s feats in the desktop field almost obsolete. Handhelds make serving ads extremely impractical and unsafe, and with the birth of smart TVs and wearable technology, Google was pushed to rethink its strategy.

In comes Google’s ambitious artificial intelligence system – enabling users to access heaps of data with a simple oral commands. Using voice search and predictive service, Google intends on designing an interface that is more conversational rather than static. Google is not alone in these endeavors. Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana are all competing as interactive search engines. While Amazon’s Echo is restricted as an in-home ‘assistant’, Facebook is also making strides in its development of a gender-less ‘M’. What separates Google is its “string of real-world associations”. An example can be how searching for “10 Downing Street” renders more results pertaining to Whitehall and the Office of the Prime Minister and not simply a map.

Google’s ‘Knowledge Graph’, as it is called, makes this possible and convenient. It is a database of over 500 million most searched for people, place and things in the world. Through these real-world associations, the engine is always learning and evolving. In essence, the Google search engine has “nothing left to be collected”.

Singhal’s work at Google is nothing short of extraordinary. He is one of the key players responsible for raising the stature of and standards at Google to new-found levels. With Google’s announcement of parent company ‘Alphabet’ in 2015, Singhal decided it was time for him to step down. He intends on spending quality time with family and engaging in philanthropic work. He formally retired in February of 2016 but most certainly remains “one of the smartest people in tech”.

 

References

“8 Facts about Google’s Search Baron Amit Singhal.” Gadgets Now. The Times of India, 5 Feb. 2016. Web. 17 Sept. 2016. <http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/tech/tech-news/8-facts-about-Googles-search-baron-Amit-Singhal/articleshow/50863404.cms>.

Adams, Tim. “Google and the Future of Search: Amit Singhal and the Knowledge Graph.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 19 Jan. 2013. Web. 16 Mar. 2015. <http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/jan/19/google-search-knowledge-graph-singhal-interview>.

Hardy, Quentin. “Amit Singhal, an Influential Engineer at Google, Will Retire.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 03 Feb. 2016. Web. 7 Nov. 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/04/technology/amit-singhal-an-influential-engineer-at-google-will-retire.html>.

Hempel, Jessi. “Facebook Launches M, Its Bold Answer to Siri and Cortana.” Wired. Conde Nast, 26 Aug. 2015. Web. 27 Oct. 2016. <http://www.wired.com/2015/08/facebook-launches-m-new-kind-virtual-assistant/>.

“Information Retrieval.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, n.d. Web. 12 May 2015. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/information%20retrieval>.

Luckerson, Victor. “Google Searches For Its Future.” Time. Time Inc., n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2017. <http://time.com/google-now/>.

Singhal, Amitabh Kumar. A Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Cornell University in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Diss. Cornell U, 1997. N.p.: n.p., n.d. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses [ProQuest]. Web. 9 July 2016. <http://search.proquest.com/docview/304344927/>.

Washburn, Alex. 2011. SFGate. By James Temple. Web. 19 Apr. 2015. <http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/Amit-Singhal-of-Google-disputes-antitrust-claims-2475959.php>.

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