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Conversational search comes with Chrome update

At its I/O developer conference last week, Google gave us an early look at what it has planned for its suite of software services. Now one of those enhancements, called "conversational search," is live on updated Chrome browsers, and the functionality is impressive.

What Google's conversational search feature does is to allow the user to speak their search queries into the search engine and then have those results spoken back. As a test, I asked, "Who is Steve Jobs?" The correct answer came back, "According to Wikipedia..." Chrome responded, going on to provide a brief synopsis.

However, the conversational aspects of the system are still not perfectly polished. When I then asked, "Who is his wife?" the search returned an unrelated result about a novel. But when I asked, more specifically, "Who is Steve Jobs's wife?" Google returned the correct result with a spoken response and even a photo of Laurene Powell Jobs.

For other queries, however, the conversational dynamic worked really well. When I asked, "Who is Justin Bieber?" it provided the correct answer. Following up with "When is his next show?" I received a list of show dates from Ticketmaster.

For another test, I casually asked, "What's the weather like in London?" I got back a full spoken report of today's weather, along with a forecast for the next week.

For now, the search engine still doesn't allow us to use the hands free, voice-activated conversational search demoed at I/O that would allow you to simply say, "OK Google, search for..." To activate, click the microphone icon in the search box. But given that the feature is already a part of Google Glass we should see the "hotword search" functionality added to Google's conversational search sometime in the near future.

Meanwhile, the updated Chrome also boosts page loads by an average of five per cent. "A 5 percent improvement may not seem like much by itself, but our estimates show that when you add up those saved seconds across all Chrome users, it totals to more than 510 years of people's time saved every week," Google wrote in a blog post.