Google, AskJeeves, Yahoo, Vivisimo, Alta Vista, MSN, good old aol.com and other Internet search engines do their sleuthing via keywords. Even if a picture or a song shows up in response to a query, it is actually found by matching the keyword or words to a text description, a caption of sorts, not to the image or sound itself. Online searching, in other words, is really all about reading, not about looking or listening at all.
If a new public-private project between France and Germany is successful, however, that could change. Funded by the French and German governments and technology companies in both countries, Europe's Internet technology would really put the “search” in search engine. Dubbed Quaero, Latin for “I seek,” the new online super detective is expected to be able to search by pictures and sounds as well as words.
According to an article in The Economist Technology Quarterly (“Attack of the Eurogoogle,” March 11, 2006) the “image mining” software would be able to recognize shapes and colors and then retrieve still images or video clips that contain images similar to the query image. When it finds an image without a description that matches a labeled one, Quaero would also copy the description from the labeled image and append it to the unlabeled one, a process called “keyword propagation,” that expands and enriches the searchable world of Internet.
Using voice recognition and translation technology, Quaero would also be able to go listening for audio files, such as speeches or radio broadcasts, and then transcribe and translate them into a number of European languages. Of course, Quaero would also be able to handle old-fashioned keyword searches, too.
As impressive as all these capabilities are, if Quaero really did enter the search engine arena, would trucking have a use for it? Could Quaero do things for your company that you can't do now by some other means?
Well for starters, imagine doing background checks of drivers by their photographs as well as by their names. According to The Economist article, law-enforcement agencies in France are already using the image mining software that will be incorporated into Quaero (from Paris-based LTU Technologies) to sift through surveillance videos. Quaero probably never forgets a face, either, so assumed names and aliases wouldn't fool system.
Anyone who has ever tried to describe a mechanical part over the telephone might also find the new search engine to be a valuable tool. Instead of telling the person at the parts counter, “It's just a little brass valve with a rubber o-ring. No, there is no part number visible. No, I can't read the manufacturer's name either, but I need a replacement,” you could just hold it up to the camera on the computer and ask Quaero to “go find this.” Then you could e-mail the photograph with the now-appended sourcing information right to the parts counter. Pretty slick.
Engine fault codes can be read remotely today, but imagine a driver hearing a “funny sound” from under the hood and asking the computer, “What is making that rattling noise?” Or imagine a driver asking his or her onboard computer to, “Find a place between Spokane and Boise where I can get the truck washed, have breakfast and buy a new battery for my cell phone.” It could happen. In fact, field guides and handbooks of all kinds could take on entirely new dimensions with Quaero. Just think, you could use it gardening, or antiquing, or birding, or even for identifying shells and stones found on the beach…. But those kinds of ideas are for other columns.