For years, when Google employees likened their projects to the Star Trek computer, Farhad Manjoo dismissed it as a convenient media metaphor. "Google is very likely the nerdiest large company on earth; of course its employees like Star Trek," he writes in Slate. But after many, many references, he started to wonder if there was more to it—and, amazingly, there is. "The Star Trek computer is not just a metaphor," search chief Amit Singhal tells him. "It is the ideal that we're aiming to build."
Singhal says that the team constantly compares its work to the Enterprise's chipper, voice-activated assistant. Captain Kirk didn't need a keyboard, so Google's been pushing voice recognition. The computer could sometimes predict crew members' needs, hence the Google Now project. "Stop thinking about Google as a 'search engine,'" Manjoo writes. "That term conjures a staid image: a small box on a page." Google's ideal is nothing like that—it's a machine so smart it can answer your questions, anticipate your needs, and answer completely unanticipated questions. Click for Manjoo's full column.