Google’s Amit Singhal: The man who took search engines to where they had never gone before

One of Google's most influential engineers will be stepping down later this month to spend more time with his family and dedicate time to giving something back to society.


One of Google's most influential engineers, Amit Singhal, will be stepping down later this month to spend more time with his family and dedicate time to giving something back to society.

Amit Singhal was born in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh in India and received a Bachelor of Engineering degree from IIT Roorkee. He continued his computer science education in the United States and received an MS degree from the University of Minnesota, Duluth, in 1991.

Singhal continued his studies at Cornell University, Ithaca in New York and went on to receive a PhD in 1996. It was at Cornell that Singhal studied with Gerard Salton – a pioneer in the field of information retrieval, also known as 'the father of digital search'. Singhal got hooked on to solving the problem of search and after the PhD, he joined AT&T Labs where he continued his research in information retrieval, speech retrieval and other related fields.

In 2000, Singhal was persuaded by his friend Krishna Bharat (an Indian research scientist, who worked at Google and led the team that developed its Google News product) to join Google. He and his teams were responsible for the Google search algorithms and he is also referred to as the master of what Google calls 'ranking algorithm' – the formulas that decide which Web pages best answer each user's question.

After joining Google, there was no turning back for Singhal. He was named a Google Fellow as a reward for re-writing the search engine in 2001. In 2011, he was inducted as a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery. Fortune named Singhal one of the smartest people in tech. In 2011, he was given the Outstanding Achievement in Science and Technology Award at The Asian Awards. In addition to this, he was also elected as one of the members of the National Academy of Engineering.

Google and Singhal seem to have a harmonious growth story. What started as Backrub by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, working out of Stanford University servers in 1995, got registered as Google in 1997. And after the new algorithm in 2001, followed a string of patents and innovative updates that literally made it a synonym for searching on the internet -- just Google it, we say when want to look something up.

The recent past saw Singhal take up a new challenge – reinvent Google for the mobile world.  In a report by the New York Times, Singhal said that smartphones were fundamentally changing the way people consumed information and Google's search had to cater to that – which meant rethinking what search means from first principles.

Singhal and his team spent five years building products like the Knowledge Graph, which powers tools like voice search and also introduced 'Now on Tap' that embeds search inside features like text messages and apps on Android phones.

Towards the end of last year, Singhal led his team to build a cool prototype that professed his love for Star Trek. They created a fully working prototype of the programme's famous lapel pin communicators. The pin, explains this report, was used by Captain Picard and his crew to communicate, and Google kept the basic principles by building in a microphone and Bluetooth connectivity to sync with a smartphone. Singhal said he had always wanted that pin and on a whim decided to make the prototype. Singhal's belief of the concept of 'ubiquitous computing' led to the prototype and what he hopes will grow out of these baby steps and become reality.

“Algorithms and learnings that we have had for 15 years of running Google are actually coming in tremendously handy in building the future,” Singhal had said in the New York Times report. “Without those, we would be lost today.”


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