Yahoo Gives $10 Million To Help Develop Next-Gen Siri And Better “Contextual Search”

Siri logoSeveral years ago, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, as a then Google employee, spoke about the perfect search engine that could anticipate your needs and which wouldn’t require any keywords to deliver results. We’re rapidly moving toward searchless content discovery with Siri, Google Now, IBM’s Watson, Nuance’s Nina, Expect Labs and other “intelligent assistants.”

Artificial intelligence-powered intelligent assistants (or personal virtual assistants, if you prefer) don’t entirely replace keywords in query boxes. However, they represent a successor technology and way to accomplish many of the things that search has historically provided.

Microsoft is rumored to be releasing its own challenger to Siri and Google Now called CORTANA. Microsoft search frenemy Yahoo just gave $10 million to Carnegie Mellon University to support “InMind,” a project that seeks to develop a next generation intelligent assistant and enhanced personalization capabilities.

According to the Yahoo Labs statement:

One highlight of the partnership is an industry-first mobile toolkit that will enable CMU researchers to easily experiment with Yahoo’s real-time data services, letting them test new ways that machine learning and interface technologies can improve personalized user experiences. We like to think of this as part of a grand-scale living laboratory where researchers can explore new approaches to understanding human behavior through machine learning and interface technologies. Members of the CMU community who opt in to test the experimental mobile software will provide researchers access to real user data and the opportunity to iterate rapidly on key technologies.

Yahoo’s presenting this in terms of “personalization,” “machine learning” and “user interface technologies.” But make no mistake this is part of Yahoo’s larger effort to develop and deliver “contextual search” and get back into search more directly.

This project and investment are probably traceable directly to Mayer and her earlier remarks about “the perfect search engine.”