A new start-up has teamed up with Edinburgh Napier in a bid to deliver better internet search results without ads or commercial bias.
Better Internet Search Ltd has been awarded funding from the Next Generation Internet Trust to further develop its alternative search engine in collaboration with the University. The company is currently recruiting a small development team to work on its proprietary technology and to run tests on its ad-free search engine.
The plan is to transform the way we search the Web using a ‘digital concierge’ method where agents using artificial intelligence (AI) actively seek out and search multiple online resources to find the desired information, products or services.
These AI agents are acting 100 per cent for the user and are not influenced by external factors such as advertising, brand dominance and marketing budgets. The ranking of results is matched to user needs and the quality of these results will continuously improve due to machine learning algorithms.
Better Internet Search Ltd believes that the current search model is broken since there is a disconnect between users and the search services. This is a result of the advertising used by the incumbent search engines for whom the advertiser is the customer and the user has become the product. Search results are heavily skewed by advertising and marketing budgets and there is little respect for the user’s private data.
Company founder Dr Gordon Povey wants to change that. He said: “To achieve our aims we need to tackle two problems: we need to make the search results more relevant to the user and one of the ways we are doing this is by applying AI to the task of finding and ranking results for the user as opposed to using AI to target ads at the user; and in parallel with this, having removed advertising, we need to develop our alternative revenue model in a way that does not interfere with the quality of results.”
It is clear that people are generally concerned about the privacy of their data and the way it is being used. In particular there is concern about it being used to target content and ads that can constantly follow you about the Internet.
Taking an ethical more human-centric view to delivering better internet services seems not just the right thing to do, with changing laws and public perceptions it could make very good business sense.
Better Internet Search will also benefit from intellectual property already developed by the founder and which is the subject of an internationally filed patent. In collaboration with Edinburgh Napier, the company has successfully demonstrated search results generated by the alternative search platform.
With growing confidence in the technical feasibility, the major focus for the company is now to develop a profitable commercial model. Thus, a series of user tests will be run to optimise the proposed monetisation.
Edinburgh Napier’s Prof Bill Buchanan leads the collaboration with the company. He said: “Our digital world is becoming increasingly dominated by companies who have created business models which are based on analysing our every action on the Internet, and then in pushing advertising content to users.
“This EU funded project aims to implement advanced machine learning methods in order to give citizens the rights to match search contents to their requirements without organisations spying on them.”