Semantic Search Engine Omnity Reckons It Can Beat Google
After several years in secretive development, Omnity hopes that its semantic search engine can change our very idea of what online search can actually accomplish.
Image: Nicholas Deleon
One new search engine is so confident in its technology that it thinks it could buy Google, and not the other way around.
In development for four years and only now, at CES 2016, out of so-called "stealth mode" in which the company said not a peep to the press, Omnity is a new kind of search engine that asks the question: What if, instead of searching for keywords like "baseball scores" or "best-rated Nintendo 64 games," a search engine let users search across disparate documents, from Wikipedia pages and news articles to patent filings and PDFs, in order to find shared interconnectedness?
"What this lets users do is avoid the tyranny of taxonomy," said Omnity CEO Brian Sager at a Tuesday evening CES event called Digital Experience. "We probably should trademark that," he then joked.
Sager explained that when Omnity searches across documents, it throws out "grammatical glue but semantic noise"—commonly used words like "the," "he," "she," or "it." Stripped of this "noise," Omnity is then able to analyze the remaining "rare words" to find common threads that link together different documents.
"What this lets users do is avoid the tyranny of taxonomy"
In one example, Sager searched for documents related to the news article headline "CEO Exits After Mutual Fund Implodes," at which point Omnity pulled up related Wikipedia and NPR articles and a patent application that the company had filed. In another example, Omnity was asked to find more information about Ford becoming an information technology company. "If you wanted to find more information on this topic what would you look for?" asked Sager. "Keywords like Ford? Technology? Car? What would you get? Here, Omnity is able to analyze the words in that article to pull up further articles on topics like Ford's progress with self-driving cars, its Palo Alto research lab, and a patent application."
If you ask Sager, this new kind of search in which users take entire documents and look for semantic meaning rather than merely matching pre-cooked keywords has the potential to upend the very idea of "search," just as Google did when it launched in 1998, particularly in fields like academic and legal research and fact-checking.
"We don't view ourselves as being complementary and not competitive with Google," said Sager. Reading between the lines, when I asked if this meant Omnity was merely looking to be snapped up by Google, providing a nice financial return for its investors, Sager laughed off the assertion with a bold claim likely to generate sharp interest in the company.
"I use Google every day and it's great, but no, we're more likely to buy Google."